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

"Look at the names on the list that were in front of me," Boucher said after the 2-0 win, before an expanding press corps. "Some of the greatest names to ever play this game were on that list. I am honored to be mentioned in the same breath with those guys. I've had my ups and downs and hockey is a strange game. Sometimes things happen that you really can't explain."

But Todd Walsh has an explanation. "In the streak, it was everybody. It was the most collective team effort I've ever seen."

Boucher's teammates were more nervous than he was. Shane Doan, the Coyotes captain, says there was a "ton" of pressure to play solid defense during the streak. Indeed, after the Washington game, rookie forward Freddie Sjostrom said he was ready to block a shot with his face if he had to.

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.

"This is a team accomplishment," Boucher said in Minnesota. "The guys have played unbelievable in front of me and there is no way I can accomplish this without their help."

And to think Boucher's shutout streak was nearly six games.

Two days later, Boucher made 21 saves but allowed a goal in the first period and the Coyotes tied the Atlanta Thrashers 1-1. It was a lucky shot. It came from the Thrashers Randy Robataille and hit Coyotes defenseman David Tanabe in the chest, who was defending the net. The puck ricocheted past Boucher.

He had gone 332 minutes and one second without allowing a goal -- another record. The sell out crowd at Glendale Arena came to their feet. "Boooosh!!" they shouted.

"You can see how difficult the streak was," Boucher said later, "because we're talking about one goal and goals can be scored in so many ways. It may hit a guy's skate or the guy may make a perfect shot."

Now that it was over, he says he was relieved -- he wouldn't have to talk about it anymore. Still, in the games that followed, Boucher continued his inspired play -- though he was once again splitting time with Burke. On January 24, Boucher stopped 44 shots in a win against Detroit. The Phoenix Coyotes were suddenly contending for a playoff spot. And there were trade rumors surrounding Sean Burke.

There is no happy ending here. Burke was traded in early February to Philadelphia. Then, with Boucher in goal, the Coyotes lost 12 of their next 13 games. Phoenix's 3-2 win in Minnesota on March 22 snapped a 15-game losing streak. Boucher's record stands at 9-18-10, as of Monday, March 29.

Of course, Boucher isn't to blame for all this. To prepare for a possible NHL-wide strike at the end of the season, the Coyotes traded away their expensive talent once they were out of playoff contention. This has led to inexperienced players playing more minutes. It reminds Phoenix goalie coach Benoit Allaire of an expression: "The goalie is as good as his team."

The Coyotes give up more shots than they take, which leads to more losses than wins. But when they take more shots than they give, they still lose more often. They rank 22nd in the league in goals scored, and 26th in the league in goals allowed. That's out of 30 NHL teams.

Boucher missed many of those goals. But everyone from captain Shane Doan to general manager Mike Barnett says the Coyotes have played poor defense since the streak, giving up too many close shots and not swatting away the rebounds.

In early March, Barnett said Boucher is still the Coyotes number one goalie, despite the team's losses. It's difficult, Barnett says, to assess a goalie's performance on a team this "young."

Boucher's comforted by this but says, at times, he battles his doubts. And it's led to poor play. Which brings to mind another expression of Allaire's: "The team is as good as the goalie." After he saved 44 shots against Detroit in late January, statistically, Boucher was one of the best goalies in the NHL. Now, Boucher's goals against average is 2.70 and his save percentage is 0.907, which ranks him, in each respective category, toward the bottom third of the league.

Just as quickly as he'd risen, Brian Boucher has fallen. Again.

During the streak, he did nothing technically different than he did after, but Boucher says goaltending is like golf. When you're playing well, you just hit it. When you're not, you think about why you're not playing well. And then you're no longer reacting, you're thinking about reacting.

It's a confidence thing.

The losses take their toll on him. On February 13, the New York Islanders beat the Coyotes 5-2. It was the fourth-straight game in which Boucher had given up five goals. It was his fourth loss in a row.

In the locker room after the game, Boucher took questions -- his voice never rising above a mumble, his eyes never meeting anyone else's. Once the press had left, there Boucher sat: with his skates and leg pads still on, with his elbows on his knees, needing a shower and staring straight ahead, thinking. Moments passed and still he didn't move. Then a reporter asked if Boucher wanted to answer some more questions.

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