Such uncertainty creates pressure during the playoffs, when one mistake on a single shift by a player who may have sat out for weeks can undo all the work a team does for eight months.
Boucher deals with it by doing lap after lap at the practice rink—so many, it’s almost as if he’s a speedskater rather than an NHL player.
All that seemingly inconsequential practicing made a difference as Boucher scored a goal and set up another as the Penguins won Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, holding off the Carolina Hurricanes for a 3-2 victory on Monday night.
“I guess doing the laps was worth it,” said Boucher, who scored his first playoff goal since April 12, 2004.
Boucher dressed for only four of the Penguins’ first 13 playoff games but, because Sergei Gonchar(notes) is playing on an injured right knee, coach Dan Bylsma stayed with the alignment of 12 forwards and seven defensemen he used late in the second-round series against Washington. Boucher is seventh and last on the depth chart.
During a game in which goaltenders Marc-Andre Fleury(notes) of Pittsburgh and Cam Ward(notes) of Carolina made key save after key save, depth made the difference for Pittsburgh as Carolina dropped Game 1 for the third consecutive series.
“He’s been ready, he stayed ready and worked hard,” Bylsma said of Boucher, who sat out most of the second half of the season following foot surgery. “He didn’t get a lot of minutes, but when he did he cashed in.”
Satan, who fell so far out of favor that he spent the final month of the regular season in the minors, and Evgeni Malkin(notes) scored less than 90 seconds apart to make it 2-0 near the midpoint of the second period.
Satan came out of the penalty box and scored off Matt Cooke’s(notes) up-ice pass, his first playoff goal in more than two years. Boucher set up Malkin’s seventh goal of the playoffs, a backhander that got past Ward.
“They stayed really focused and worked really hard and then when they did get the opportunity they were ready,” defenseman Brooks Orpik(notes) said of Boucher and Satan. “I think everybody in the locker room was really, really happy for those two guys.”
Before the two quick goals, Fleury prevented Carolina from taking the lead by making a succession of difficult saves, many from in close.
“We didn’t get the start we wanted to,” said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby(notes), who leads the playoffs with 22 points but was limited to one assist. “They got some quality chances early on. Usually when you’re at home, you’re not talking about weathering the storm, but he (Fleury) did that for us.”
The Hurricanes showed no physical or emotional letdown from their overtime Game 7 victory over top-seeded Boston on Thursday, but again had trouble scoring — they are averaging only slightly more than two goals per game.
Carolina coach Paul Maurice said the goaltending prevented it from being a much higher-scoring game. Ward made 28 saves and Fleury 23, and few were easy.
“It wasn’t played like a 3-2 game,” he said. “There were a lot more higher-end offensive chances.”
The first brother vs. brother matchup in an NHL conference finals in 35 years began with Staal and brother Jordan of Pittsburgh taking the opening faceoff and ended seconds after Eric Staal nearly sent it to overtime.
Game 2 will be Thursday night following a two-day break that includes a Bruce Springsteen concert during a series that could stretch over 16 days. The Western Conference finals resume with Game 2 Tuesday night in Detroit, where the Red Wings won 5-2 on Sunday.