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Philadelphia Flyers goalie Brian Boucher makes a save during the third period of their NHL hockey game against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Toronto April 6, 2010. REUTERS/ Mike Cassese


It seems only fitting that Paul Holmgren, a man who has represented the Philadelphia Flyers for most of the past 35 years, has staked his reputation as an NHL general manager on a team thin in goal.

This, after all, is a franchise that has generally been competent in every other area, a contender many years but for a penchant for putting Dominic Roussel and Roman Cechmanek types in the net.

This year's addition to the trend is Brian Boucher, he of a .899 save percentage and the last man standing after injuries wiped out Ray Emery and Michael Leighton for the rest of the season.

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It's a situation that had Holmgren, only a few weeks ago, looking to Russia to sign former Flyers netminder Robert Esche to backup his backup's backup for the most important games of the year.

Yes, Robert Esche.

Alas, he was unavailable, unable to be freed from his KHL contract, and with Philadelphia's season - and perhaps Holmgren's job - hanging in the balance, the gig has become Boucher's by default.

"Obviously, it's his job now, and we need him to win big for us," the GM said.

Last night - in a game as big as they've been this season for the Flyers - Boucher did just that, stopping all 23 shots in a 2-0 shutout of the Toronto Maple Leafs for only his eighth win in 31 appearances.

The victory was a vital one for Philadelphia, inching them closer to clinching a playoff berth with a four-point lead on the ninth-place New York Rangers. The Flyers' final two games of the season come this week in a home-and-home series against the Rangers - who face Toronto tonight - that very well could decide which team slinks into the postseason.

Simply getting there would be an accomplishment for Philadelphia, given a nearly season-long tailspin since a 12-5-1 start.

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"We're not in first place, we're not in a better spot, we're fighting for our lives and we need to win hockey games down the stretch just to qualify to get the right to play for the Cup," said head coach Peter Laviolette, hired last December, after Holmgren threw John Stevens overboard amidst a 3-13-1 slide. "So there's a lot of work that has to be done.

"Would I rather be in first? Yeah. Would I rather be in fifth? Yeah. But we're in charge of what we do."

That they are - and after bringing a 3-7-2 record in their past 12 games into this one, the Flyers finally played with some authority last night, showing a little determination against a Leafs team that has had a penchant for playing spoiler against bubble teams of late.

Doing the honours on the scoreboard was winger Claude Giroux, who beat Leafs netminder J.S. Giguère 11 minutes in for the winner, and captain Mike Richards with an empty-netter to salt things away.

As tough as they played on the ice - and there were a couple minor skirmishes in this one - Philadelphia showed most of its mettle in the dressing room, fiercely defending Boucher's ability to handle the No. 1 role before and after the game.

"There's no controversy in the room. He was brought into Philadelphia for a reason and that reason is because he's a great goaltender," said Blair Betts, one of the Flyers' key foot soldiers this season. "Now, it's his opportunity to step up."

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Like Holmgren, Boucher has a history with the Flyers, and like many goalies before him, it hasn't always been pretty. Drafted into the organization as a first-rounder 15 years ago, he backstopped Philadelphia to the conference finals in 2000, but was out of the organization two years later, and eventually banished to the minors in 2007-08.

Then, last summer, with Holmgren in a desperate search for cheap options in goal, Boucher landed back where he started by signing a $1.85-million (U.S.), two-year deal.

Asked yesterday if he agreed that Philadelphia has become a goalie graveyard, he simply laughed.

"If it's a graveyard, I mean, I'm back," Boucher said. "I'm still alive, I guess. The second go-around. But you know what, they haven't won and when you don't win, they're always looking for answers. And I guess the easy guy to point out is the goaltender."

"I think Brian's battling for us," Holmgren said. "The games he's played this year, he's been the guy in there when we've had a tough time scoring. We need him to play his best."

Fingers crossed.

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About the Author
Hockey Reporter

James joined The Globe as an editor and reporter in the sports department in 2005 and now covers the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs. More

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