The rise and fall -- and rise and fall -- of Phoenix Coyotes record-breaking goalie

And finally, there are the Flyers fans. "They want champions," Boucher says -- and nothing else.

And who's to blame when the team falls short of the Stanley Cup?

The goalie.

Brian Boucher on the night the shutout streak began, December 31, 2003.
Photo Curtesy of the Phoenix Coyotes
Brian Boucher on the night the shutout streak began, December 31, 2003.
Boucher makes one of his 21 saves against the Montreal 
Canadiens March 5.  The Coyotes would lose, however, 
Emily Piraino
Boucher makes one of his 21 saves against the Montreal Canadiens March 5. The Coyotes would lose, however, 4-3.

Boucher knew what Philadelphia could be like, how quickly it could turn on a player, so he decided to move slowly, learning all he could from John Vanbiesbrouck, the Flyers starter and former Vezina winner (the NHL's Goalie of the Year).

Initially, Boucher impressed the Flyers. He played well in practice. As the season progressed, head coach Craig Ramsay gave Boucher more game experience. "He looks confident," Ramsay says he remembers thinking at the time. "If he keeps this up, I'm going to start him."

By the All-Star break in February, with Vanbiesbrouck playing poorly, Ramsay and the front office had a discussion.

Boucher was named the starting goalie. His first game would come a few days later against Toronto -- and its star defenseman, Bryan Berard.

In Woonsocket the night of the game, the Bouchers watched the game at the Berards' home, along with whoever else the house could hold. Pam Berard remembers Boucher telling her, a day before the game, that he wanted to, first and foremost, stop Berard from scoring.

He did. Boucher flipped aside each of Bryan's attempts. The Flyers won.

Boucher finished the season with 20 wins. The 1.91 goals a game he allowed was best in the league and the lowest for a rookie in 50 years. When Boucher was named the playoff starter, he did nothing more than nod his head. "That's what I liked about him," Ramsay says now. "He wasn't overwhelmed by anything."

Which is not to say Boucher wasn't tested -- especially during the 2000 playoffs.

In the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, the Pittsburgh Penguins won the first two games in Philadelphia. Livid fans called the all-sports radio stations, cursing Ramsay for keeping in that bum of a goalie. But Ramsay never swayed, starting Boucher in Game 3, which the Flyers won in overtime.

In Game 4, the Penguins' Alexei Kovalev's slap shot gave Pittsburgh the early lead. It was the Penguins first shot of the night. It would not be the last.

The game was tied at one at the end of regulation.

By the fourth overtime, with the game still tied at one, sweat from Boucher's socks had drenched the inside of his skates. He could hear a squishy sound as he moved back and forth on the ice. He had stood in goal for over six hours. It was nearly 2 a.m.

In the fifth overtime, with cramps nearly shaking his body, Boucher played his best. The Penguins were desperate and the Flyers defense exhausted. Boucher stopped eight shots in that period alone. Then, after 152 minutes and 1 second of play, the Flyers Keith Primeau banked one off the crossbar and past Penguins goalie Ron Tugnutt for a 2-1 victory. In a must-win game, on the road, after letting the first shot of the night slip by, Boucher had stopped the next 57, 19 of them from Kovalev and Jaromir Jagr, two of the NHL's best scorers. Game 4 started on a Thursday at 7:38 p.m. and ended on Friday morning at 2:35 EST.

It was the third-longest NHL game in history, and the longest in 64 years. And the only Philadelphia Flyer to not come off the ice was a rookie from Woonsocket, R.I.

After the game, his teammate, Mark Recchi, told the Philadelphia Inquirer, "He's no rookie anymore."

The Flyers beat the Penguins in six games. They then took the New Jersey Devils to the seventh-game of the Eastern Conference Finals, before losing at home.

Philly fans, as always, were outraged. But the future looked bright.

Boucher spent the summer of 2000 at home in Woonsocket, 287 miles from the droves of fans that now adored him. He recalls that he worked out in the mornings, golfed in the afternoons (he's a two-handicap) and spent nights with his wife, Melissa. They were wed the previous summer. Melissa Lauzon is a Woonsocket girl Boucher had had a crush on since elementary school. Their days together that summer of 2000 were peaceful. Boucher's future seemed set.

The Flyers had traded Vanbiesbrouck to the New York Islanders. Boucher was now the unquestioned starter. His agent, Tom Laidlaw, thought he should be paid like one.

Back and forth Clarke and Laidlaw went. Finally, on August 31, days before camp opened, the Flyers caved, giving the 23-year old Boucher a two-year contract worth $3.1 million. With bonuses included, the deal paid out nearly $4 million. For a goalie, it was one of the best contracts in the league.

The reason Clarke was hesitant to award it extended beyond Boucher's relative inexperience. A big contract puts too much pressure on a young player, Clarke says. The young player tries to justify his new money, which often leads to forced play, which leads to poor play.

Boucher had stayed in Woonsocket during negotiations. After the deal was done, he came to camp nervous, he now admits, thinking he needed to justify the money he was about to make.

After an opening day victory over Vancouver, the Flyers lost three of their next four games.

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