Have The Flyers Already Solved Thier Goaltending “Issues”???

May 14th, 2010 No Comments

When the 2009-10 season began, the Philadelphia Flyers and their fans had hoped free agent signee Ray Emery was their answer in between the pipes.

Hampered by injuries that eventually cut short his season—and perhaps his career—Emery posted a reasonable 16-11-1 record with a 2.64 goals against average and a decent .905 save percentage.

Coming on in relief of Emery were a combination of veteran Brian Boucher and waiver-wire acquisition Michael Leighton.

Boucher finished the regular season with a less than stellar 9-18-3 record to go along with a 2.76 goals against average and a paltry .899 save percentage. It was a tough season for Boucher who was often criticized by the fans and, in many people’s minds, should have played out his days in the minors.

Leighton, who came to the Flyers from the Carolina Hurricanes via the waiver wire on December 15th, 2009, was not supposed to be the “answer” at the time of his signing, rather a stop-gap solution until Emery could return from injury.

As it turns out. both the critics and many of the Flyers’ fans were wrong about both Leighton and Boucher, at least for the short term.

Leighton rose above his critics, giving the Flyers a legitimate chance at the playoffs through his solid 16-5-2 record, 2.48 goals against average, and .918 save percentage.

Unfortunately, like Emery before him, Leighton got injured down the stretch and was forced to finish the regular season on the injury list.

Enter Brian Boucher.

Boucher, who won just five of 13 games in relief of Leighton, did manage to win when it mattered most—a 2-1 shootout victory over the New York Rangers in the Flyers’ final game of the season, a win which gave the Flyers their spot in the playoffs.

Entering the playoffs, many felt the Flyers’ number one weakness would be their goaltending. Boucher would once again prove the critics wrong, posting a record of 4-1 in the Flyers’ first round series against the New Jersey Devils, including a 28-save shutout in the fifth and deciding game of the series.

With a depleted lineup in front of him, Boucher was asked to spin his miracle work once again—this time against hated rival Boston Bruins.

Boucher lost his first three games, but nobody was convinced that he was really the issue. In fact, outside of Game One where both he and Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask struggled, Boucher was solid between the pipes as he kept Philadelphia in each game despite his team looking exhausted in front of him.

In spite of the odds that lay in front of him—mainly the Flyers 0-3 gap in the series—Boucher and his team would dig deep, beating the Bruins in Game Four of the series, giving the Flyers a glimmer of hope in the series and forcing a Game Five.

With a Game Five win looking more and more like a reality for Boucher and the Flyers, the unthinkable (or rather the expected given the Flyers woes this season) happened when Boucher went down with an apparent knee injury just 4:31 into the second period.

Up to that point, Boucher had stopped nine of nine shots and had looked good doing so.

Boucher would exit the playoffs with his head held high having posted a 6-4 record to go along with his 2.33 goals against average and .915 save percentage—numbers he earned under much scrutiny and under severe circumstances.

Just like that, the Flyers were forced to undergo yet another goaltending change, this time, back to Michael Leighton who had just come off the injured list himself.

Leighton responded in fine form, leading the Flyers to a 4-0 win—a shared shutout for both he and Boucher…kind of poetic justice, don’t you think?

For most teams, a goaltending change at that juncture would have shaken their confidence, but for the Flyers it was old hat—it didn’t shake them one bit!

With all eyes on the Flyers in Game Six of the series Leighton would could up with a monster effort, backstopping the Flyers to a thrilling 2-1 victory, a game in which he was nearly flawless after sitting on the sidelines for weeks.

Now, after two just games, Leighton has a sparkling 0.63 goals against average and an impressive .978 save percentage—this from a kid nobody wanted earlier in the season, this from a kid that had just returned from weeks recovering from injury.

Game Seven looms large for the Flyers and the fans of the Orange and Black. A victory against the Bruins would solidify this Flyers team in the history books as one of the most dramatic teams in NHL playoff history, as they would emerge as one of only three teams in NHL history to come back from a 3-0 deficit in a playoff series.

Forwards Mike Richards, Simon Gagne, and defenseman Chris Pronger have been key cogs in the Flyers’ success, but the bulk of the credit must go to Boucher and Leighton, without whom the Flyers would already be golfing.

So I ask you Philly fans, will all this talk about the Flyers biggest need in the offseason being a goaltender be put to rest, or do you need to see more?

I know one thing: If the Flyers can pull off a Game Seven victory this Friday night it will be real tough for general manager Paul Holmgren to say goodbye to either Boucher or Leighton, especially after all they have accomplished this season and the genuinely great numbers they have put up.

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