After Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals, we said the goaltending for the Philadelphia Flyers wasn't going to determine whether they would hoist the Chalice or sob in their mugs after facing the Chicago Blackhawks.
They could toss Dominic Roussel back there with a blindfold on and it wouldn't matter, as long as the Flyers play stagnant hockey while the Blackhawks rampage through the rink like a bunch of brides-to-be during a department store wedding dress sale.
Watching most of Game 5 was like watching Sonic The Hedgehog vs. Asteroids: Kinetic energized creatures trying to avoid slow-moving objects colliding with each other.
Which brings us to the most important question in any goaltending debate for the Flyers in Game 6: Would a move to Boucher or a vote of confidence in Leighton result in that emotional dynamic changing in the last two games of the season?
Coming up, a case for both goalies. But which one do you believe gives the Flyers the best chance at winning the Cup?
When coach Peter Laviolette was asked about pulling Leighton after he gave up three goals in the first period, his response was that the Flyers "weren't very good" in the opening frame.
When asked if Leighton would start Game 6, he said "I don't have an answer for that." Which sparked an instant debate in the wake of the Blackhawks' 7-4 victory, as did footage from CBC that showed Leighton getting dinged with a shot on his knee during warm-ups.
The Case for Leighton
The most obvious argument is that you dance with the girl you took to prom, and Leighton's been the guy between the pipes since the first inklings of a comeback against the Boston Bruins. He doesn't win games on his own, despite the shutout totals. At his best, he's competent and clutch; at his worst, he gets pulled from games at United Center, as has happened twice in this series.
Rich Hoffman of the Philadelphia Daily News believes history and performance warrant a commitment to Leighton in Game 6.
Logic says that, just as after pulling Leighton after allowing five goals in Game 1, Laviolette will return to Leighton again. It is neater and simpler and projects an image of calm at a tempestuous time. It is easy enough to make the argument that, after a game when the Blackhawks came out and ran the Flyers over in the first period, the last thing the Flyers need is some undue emotional upset.
Besides, Leighton is so much better at home, and that is where this series is heading. The stats are striking. In two games at home in the finals, Leighton has a 2.86 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage. In three games on the road, he has a 5.31 goals-against average and a .831 save percent.
Which leads us to ...
The Case for Boucher
The Flyers need to win the next two games to win the Stanley Cup. Assuming that the team comes out with the competitive fire and outright firepower it's shown in building a 9-1 home record in the postseason, there very well could be a Game 7 in Chicago.
Where, let's face it, Leighton soiled the linens in two of three games.
Boucher hasn't exactly been a road warrior either in this postseason, nor was he a dominant road goalie during the regular season (5-11-1). But if the Flyers are going to win the Cup, it's going to happen in Chicago; and Boucher isn't the guy who gave up five first-period goals in three games at United Center. Perhaps his veteran steadiness gives the Flyers the foundational performance they could have used in Game 5.
So yeah, the case for Boucher is basically the case against Leighton, because as AJ Perez of FanHouse noted, Boucher hasn't really made his own case:
Boucher had a solid effort in relief, although he didn't make the strongest of arguments on Sunday. He allowed three goals on 14 shots before he was pulled with an extra attacker with 2:20 left in regulation, seconds before Dustin Byfuglien(notes) scored on the empty net for the game's final margin.
The one he'd likely wish he could take back was the third goal, a snap shot from Patrick Sharp(notes) that beat him blocker side from 42 feet out.
"Obviously, I needed to go in and shut the door to give us a chance to win," Boucher said. "It didn't happen. Physically, I felt fine. Three-goal leads are tough to come back from."
The choice would be a more difficult one had Boucher played better in relief. As it stands now, Laviolette has a decision to make based more on the ability to hit the right emotional notes in two elimination games vs. choosing the goalie who can best win two straight.
Because, once more with feeling: It's all about what happens in front of Leighton and Boucher. The question is whether one or the other can provide a boost to that end.