There have been so many great goalies since Bill Durnan tended the twine for the Montreal Canadiens from the mid-to-late 1940s. Durnan wore huge leather mitts that would allow him to hold the stick in either hand, thus he was able to switch hands depending on who was shooting on him. He often wore a derby while captaining the Habs to two Stanley Cups.
How has his shutout streak held up until now? Why didn't the likes of Jacques Plante, Johnny Bower, Terry Sawchuk, Billy Smith, Bernie Parent, Ken Dryden, Grant Fuhr, Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur or Dominik Hasek ever come close to this elusive mark?
Why did Brian Boucher?
It has a lot to do with confidence, his goalie coach, his teammates and support from the front office.
Boucher's career began as a wonderful story. A first-round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers in 1995, he led Team USA to its first silver medal at the 1997 World Junior Championship. He became the story of the 2000 playoffs when he won Game 4 of the conference semifinals -- the epic five-overtime game in Pittsburgh -- that turned the series around, and then took the eventual champion New Jersey Devils to Game 7, which they lost 2-1 after Eric Lindros got drilled by Scott Stevens.
The Flyers should have kept John Vanbiesbrouck as his mentor/backup the next season. Instead, they brought in Roman Cechmanek, who they drafted that summer, and had Maxime Ouellet as their No. 1-in-waiting. As a result, Boucher was too afraid to make a mistake and his play faltered. He still needed time in that demanding city, and he needed support from an older veteran. What he got instead was a trade to the Phoenix Coyotes, where he would serve as Sean Burke's backup. Though his career path had dipped, it still resulted in a new contract worth several millions, but his confidence couldn't support it. Compounding matters was working with a new goalie coach, Benoit Allaire, and learning a new system of stopping pucks.
Earlier this season, the Coyotes took an educated gamble by exposing Boucher in the waiver draft. They knew if they exposed Zac Bierk, his $550,000 salary likely would be picked up by another team and they wanted to keep all three goalies. Still, being placed on waivers isn't an enjoyable experience for any professional, and not being selected sometimes is an additional blow. If his contract was lower (he makes $2 million this season), I am sure there would have been teams more interested, but that wasn't the case.
As the season wore on and the Coyotes continued to rotate Burke and Bierk, Allaire suggested in mid-December that it would be best for Boucher to practice with the injured players instead of with the team so the other two goalies could see more pucks.
The most impressive thing about Boucher was his attitude through it all. He showed up at the rink early, worked out hard and kept his chin up. Adversity is a funny thing; it only gives you two choices. You can sulk, pout, mope around and bring everyone down, or you can show your character and maintain a positive attitude. He chose the latter.
More impressive is the fact that Boucher changed his game. Benoit told me that they "both gave up around 50 percent" of their own way of doing things. The theories that Benoit uses have worked tremendously well for both Burke and Bierk but needed some tweaking for Nikolai Khabibulin before and now Boucher. Allaire deserves a ton of credit for readjusting his theories, but that is what good goalie coaches do. Benoit wants his big goalies to stay deeper, read the play and then have an answer for it. Boucher needed to be a little more aggressive than that, while still using his instincts and athleticism. He's letting the puck come to him right now; he's not chasing it or attacking it. He is seeing the puck come into his glove and body, and is showing tremendous patience.
This is all part of the same zone we saw him in back in 2000. His teammates worked their tails off for him then and they are now. Do you think they would do that if he was a bad guy? Would they be blocking shots all over the ice for five straight games?
Which brings us to management. General manager Mike Barnett met with the team, without any coaches in the room, before the streak began in Columbus. The team's number of goals against, penalty minutes per game and penalty killing were among the league's worst, which meant only one thing, Barnett told them: You don't care about team defense or what it takes to win hockey games, and if they didn't start caring, he'd find players who do.
Now, players who weren't backchecking are often deep in their own zone, those who weren't blocking shots are paying the price and those who weren't playing a disciplined game are playing smarter.
After his shutout streak came to an end on Sunday, the coaches were going to turn to Burke for tonight's game against Vancouver. Burke, who hasn't played since Dec. 29, told them Boucher deserves to keep playing.
It has come full circle for Boucher. And now that he has a full foundation of confidence and self-esteem, it will be up to him to keep the standard high in order to be regarded as a No. 1 goalie.
But like everything else in hockey, he can't do it alone.
Other news and notes
Brent Johnson went to the rink Monday only to find out he was placed on waivers. The grandson of the great Sid Abel packed up his gear and left the rink. The Blues are going with Reinhard Divis, of Austria, whom I am told has tremendous upside. He replaced Chris Osgood in net Monday night against Chicago and got the win in a wild 7-4 game that also saw the Hawks pull Michael Leighton in favor of Steve Passmore.
Congratulations to Chris Mason of Nashville who won his first NHL game against the powerful Avalanche. Mason made several great glove saves, most notably on Alex Tanguay from in close, in the 4-3 overtime win.
Washington's Olaf Kolzig looks like he's back on track after winning his last two games. He beat Carolina 4-1 and shut out Edmonton on the road 1-0, making 26 saves. His name continues to pop up in trade deadline rumors.
This week's rankings include some goalies that have had to really battle through some tough times but continue to hang tough. The top five for this week:
Darren Pang, a former goaltender with the Chicago Blackhawks, is a hockey analyst for ESPN. His goalie rankings appear every other week in Net Effect.