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

On November 9 at Anaheim, Zac Bierk pulled his groin in the first period and did not return to the game. The Coyotes announced Boucher as Sean Burke's back-up. Four days later, Phoenix head coach Bobby Francis said Boucher would start the following night in Dallas.

The next day, Todd Walsh, the pregame and post-game host of the "Coyotes Report " on Fox Sport Net Arizona, asked Boucher for an interview. Walsh travels with the team and knows the players well. He knows Boucher is a huge fan of the Boston Red Sox and he, as a fan of the New York Yankees, takes every opportunity to tell Boucher how much the Red Sox suck. At the start of this season, with Boucher rarely practicing, this was normally the extent of their conversation, Walsh recalled in a recent interview.

But in the lobby of a Dallas hotel, Walsh and Boucher talked for 40 minutes. Boucher talked about his current struggles, his past ones, but what Walsh remembers is Boucher looking him in the eye and saying, in all earnestness, "This is the most important game of my career."

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.

Says Walsh, "And I remember that night thinking, 'I've heard a lot of guys say that and then they tank it.'"

Boucher didn't. Just as he had after his sophomore year in high school, just as he had in Philadelphia, after battling injuries and trade rumors, Boucher rose to the occasion. Against one of the best teams in the league and a goalie, Marty Turco, who might win this year's Vezina trophy, Boucher stopped 35 shots -- nine more than Turco -- as the teams battled to an overtime tie.

Coyotes GM Mike Barnett was impressed. "He basically won the game. Dallas was a legitimate challenge. It was in their building. And we had to win . . ..We decided we didn't want to keep him cold and on the shelf."

Boucher started five of the 20 games that followed. Bierk, meanwhile, continued to rehab his groin.

On December 31, Boucher started again against Los Angeles. He blanked them, 4-0. Boucher had gone 85 games without a shutout. "And it'll probably be another 85 games before I get another one," he told Walsh afterwards.

But then he did it again, against Dallas. He stopped all 35 of the Stars' shots. Bobby Francis decided to ride out this hot streak.

After Boucher beat Carolina 3-0 in his third-consecutive start, he was no longer some back-up who'd gotten lucky. He was now one game from tying Bill Durnan's 55-year old record of four straight shutouts. Not even Boucher's hero, Patrick Roy, had done that.

And do you know what he said to Todd Walsh as he walked into the locker room in Carolina?

"Yankees still suck."

"It was levity," Walsh says of the Carolina game and the streak as a whole. "He had it and he rolled with it."

Boucher decided after the Los Angeles game to "have fun" with whatever followed, he now recalls. He'd had enough bad times. As the streak wore on, he wasn't nervous, he didn't eat the same meals or drink the same soda. He had confidence in himself again. He decided to just enjoy the games and the attention, because the last time he played like this, as a rookie, he worried way too much. And then, when it was over, and he didn't play well, he worried even more.

Now, he joked around a lot. The standard question before the fourth game in Washington was, 'What do you think about your season, going from the waiver draft to three-straight shutouts?'

Boucher would say something like, 'Well, don't pay your back-up goalie $2 million.'

The Washington Capitals had Robert Lang, the NHL's leading scorer, and Jaromir Jagr, the former Pittsburgh Penguin over whom Boucher had lost sleep as a rookie. But neither fazed him on Wednesday, January 8. And he wasn't fazed when the Capitals pulled their goalie in the finals minutes to gain an extra attacker.

The Coyotes won 3-0; Boucher stopped 27 shots. One of them -- Joel Kwiatkowski's rebound attempt in the first period -- Boucher swept away with his left skate after it went off his back heel.

"It's quite an honor," Boucher said in the frenzied press conference afterward. "I can't even think of the words to describe it."

The rest of the NHL couldn't, either. Bill Durnan was the first goalie to win the Vezina trophy four years in a row. And he won it a fifth time in 1950, the year after he had four shutouts. Bill Durnan played for the Montreal Canadiens. The Montreal Canadiens won two Stanley Cups with Durnan in goal.

Brian Boucher wasn't even practicing with the Phoenix Coyotes at the start of the year. And forget the Stanley Cup. The Coyotes consider it a good year if they make the playoffs.

"It's mind-boggling," Coyotes head coach Bobby Francis said at the time.

Boucher was looking at the clock the last five minutes of the game. In the four previous contests, Boucher had remained stoic between the pipes, never celebrating, always ready for the next shot. But against the Minnesota Wild, he wanted the game to be over. He wanted the record.

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