THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
On Hockey

Search for a goalie never stops

No saving Flyers from this dilemma

By Kevin Paul Dupont
May 1, 2011

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PHILADELPHIA — True works of art take time. Take, for instance, the Basilica of Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, which went under construction in 1882 and remains that great city’s No. 1 tourist attraction.

Part of the building’s appeal is its unique design, influenced most by renowned architect Antoni Gaudi, but its greatest aura stems from the fact that it remains an unfinished work, an ongoing project. One hundred twenty-nine years later, they’re still trying to get it right, and the optimists in Catalonia now figure the finishing touches will be complete, oh, somewhere in the span of years 2017-26, give or take a decade and a bunch of siestas.

So, in terms of works in progress, the Flyers net is in its infancy by comparison. It really hasn’t been right since the late ’70s (that’s 1970s, not 1870s), Bernie Parent’s sunset years, following the Broad Streeters’ back-to-back Cups (1974, ’75). And yesterday’s 7-3 loss to the Bruins was proof once more that the Flyers still have much work to do before they close that 24-square-foot gaping abyss that so often has derailed their dreams.

“We have to do better as a group,’’ said Flyers center Mike Richards, deflecting, as a captain should, the scrutiny on starting netminder Brian Boucher, after the Flyers fell into an 0-1 hole in their best-of-seven playoff series with the Bruins. “Defense is played by five guys, and we could have been better as a five-man unit in our end.’’

Well, that would be a six-man unit, if the Flyers included their netminder, but that’s something the front office has not been wont to do over the last three, four decades. They usually have good teams here, squads that play hard and engage one of the league’s most avid, passionate fan bases.

But Flyers general managers, dating back as far as Keith Allen, time and time again have missed or bollixed opportunities to get the net thing right. Ah, goaltending, so overrated.

When goaltending is bad, as it was yesterday with Boucher (23 shots, 18 saves, 37:14), it sucks the will, spirit, and determination out of a team. The old adage is that goaltending is 50 percent of any team. That’s when the goaltending is good. When it’s bad, the percentage is closer to 90, if not 100.

The Flyers may not have prevailed yesterday even with top-notch netminding, but that’s just speculation. What we know for sure is that Boucher, the ex-Mount St. Charles standout, was less than ordinary, and though he didn’t get much help from anyone else wearing the Flying-P, not even players wearing capes and a huge “S’’ on their chests likely could have saved his front side or back side.

“You don’t want to do that,’’ said Flyers coach, and proud son of Franklin, Mass., Peter Laviolette, referring to the need to pull his goalie (yesterday for Sergei Bobrovsky). “The way we played in front of our goaltender, we as a team deserve responsibility — but that’s not where you want to be.’’

Laviolette, who led his club to the Cup finals last spring against the Blackhawks, how has pulled his starting netminder six times in the club’s last 14 playoff games. Bobrovsky, considered a great find as a rookie this season, started Game 1 for the Flyers this year, only to be relegated to the press box for Game 2. Boucher and Michael Leighton somehow kept the net together well enough to squeeze by the Sabres in Round 1 and deliver them a rematch with the Bruins.

No telling where Laviolette goes now for his netminder du jour. Maybe back to Boucher, if the coach truly believes (though that is doubtful) that the five goals scored on Boucher’s watch were at least as much on the team as they were on the goaltender. Maybe he turns to Bobrovsky or even Leighton, or maybe an XXXL traffic cone, or a big pair of L.L. Bean boots.

Or maybe Laviolette says the heck with it all and puts one of his three goalies between the pipes only for faceoffs and otherwise goes with an empty net and either a fourth forward or an extra defenseman. I bet they’ve heard crazier theories than that these last 129 years among those various construction teams at Sagrada Familia.

“It seemed like every opportunity they got, they cashed in,’’ said Boucher, no doubt unaware it was the most goals the Bruins scored in a playoff game since May 10, 1988 (7-1 vs. the Devils in the conference finals). “Not a good afternoon.’’

Meanwhile, the Bruins need to get a grip on their own work in progress. They are now 0 for 26 on the power play this postseason, blanked in all eight games. They were 0 for 21 vs. Montreal in Round 1 and opened 0 for 5 vs. the Flyers. They are closing in on the mark of 10 straight playoff games without a power-play goal posted by the 1942 Maple Leafs, prior to getting hot in the finals and winning the Cup after an 0-3 start vs. Detroit.

Only a matter of time, right? For the Flyers and their net, the wait has been decades. For the Bruins, the dysfunctional power play has been a problem only since the end of February.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com.

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