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Flyers take hat off to Boucher; Calm goalie perseveres in stressful moments

Brian Boucher has been around long enough to know the National Hockey League playoffs abound with uncertainty. He's seen enough to be aware that the situation as it appears one minute can be very different the next.

Boucher came into the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Buffalo Sabres as the Philadelphia Flyers' No. 2 goaltender. He wasn't a distant second the way it is with the Sabres, where Ryan Miller is entrenched as a bear-the-burden No. 1. But Boucher was nonetheless the backup to Sergei Bobrovsky, Philly's second choice as the playoffs unfolded.

We're now three games into the postseason, and just like that Philly's goaltending roles have flipped. Boucher earned the victory in relief of Bobrovsky in Game Two. And now he has the Flyers back on top in the series, his 35-save performance standing large as Philadelphia regained home-ice advantage with a 4-2 victory at HSBC Arena on Monday night.

"Like I've been saying all along, we're comfortable playing in front of whoever's in the net," said captain Mike Richards. "We've had success with everybody's who's been in there."

Boucher persevered through a pair of difficult tests as the Sabres suffered consecutive losses for the first time in 27 games. Buffalo had tied the score, 1-1, just past the midway point of the first period and was riding momentum's wave when the Flyers found themselves killing a double-minor against Scott Hartnell. Boucher was strong during the flurry as the Sabres finished the period with a 16-6 advantage in shots.

Boucher's workload was less, although the pressure greater, when the Sabres had a five-on-three advantage for 1:15 of the third period. The Flyers emerged with their 3-2 lead intact, and may have been helped when a close shot from Tyler Ennis struck and loosened Boucher's mask. A less experienced goaltender may have played on until a stoppage in play. Boucher, 34, dumped his headgear and got a whistle.

"I got hit there and it broke the buckle there, the strap, so the mask was loose," Boucher said. "I just felt like it was kind of unsafe that the mask was moving around on my face so I've seen other goalies flip their mask off and I didn't know what would happen but the referee said it was the right play and it was fine."

The stoppage provided the Flyers' scrambling, short-handed defense with an opportunity to catch its breath, much to the dismay of the Sabres and the sellout crowd.

"It wasn't intentional," Boucher said. "It wasn't like I undid the strap and was looking to do this. It so happens I went across and made a save and knocked the strap off."

"I think it's his veteran presence," said Danny Briere, who scored his second goal of the series. "He's been around a long time. There's no stress. He's relaxed back there, confident in what he does."

Boucher is renowned for his laid-back style, his unruffled demeanor, which makes him an ideal goaltender to have in the wings. He played 20 fewer games than Bobrovsky during the regular season but still won 18 games with a 2.42 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage.

"I have a belief in myself," he said. "I knew that I put a lot of work in this year to have a good season. I know there may be questions from the outside but for myself I feel I can do the job and I'm happy to be getting a chance."

e-mail: bdicesare@buffnews.com

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