Brian Boucher has had an up-close look at Barry Trotz’s goaltender maneuvering in these Stanley Cup playoffs, having worked every Islanders game to date as an NBC analyst positioned between the benches.
But he was an expert on such matters long before now, having been a goaltender for seven NHL teams over 13 seasons and seen countless comings and goings in net.
Nothing ever quite has topped what he experienced during the Flyers’ 11 playoff games in 2011.
Coach Peter Laviolette used three goalies – Boucher, Michael Leighton and Sergei Bobrovsky – and pulled his starter in six of the 11 games against the Sabres and Bruins.
“Lavvy had the happy trigger,” Boucher said from Edmonton, where on Monday the Lightning routed the Islanders, 8-2, in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, forcing starting goalie Thomas Greiss out after three early scores.
“What I can say is by the time that [Buffalo] series ended, I was exhausted. Are you going to get pulled? Are you starting?”
After the second-round sweep by Boston, he said, “We were toast. As goalies, that was it . . . It’s mentally taxing. Every time you give up two quick ones, you’re always looking to the bench.”
Boucher - who twice relieved Leighton for the Flyers in the 2010 Cup Final - stressed there is a key difference between the 2011 Flyers and 2020 Islanders.
“Lavvy didn’t have confidence in any of us; that’s how I felt,” he said. “But I feel like here, Trotz feels like has confidence in both of his guys.”
Still, after Monday’s dud, in which Semyon Varlamov followed Greiss and allowed another five goals, Boucher believes a support intervention is in order.
“What’s important is for [Trotz] to reinforce that confidence in those guys,” he said. “Have a discussion with them, pat them on the back, show them some good video, make them feel like they are very good goaltenders.”
Both now have been pulled in the playoffs, with Greiss’ hook coming 11 minutes into his first start after shutting out the Flyers in a Game 7.
It helps that Varlamov is 32 and Greiss 34, two veterans who “should be able to put things in perspective better than a young guy,” Boucher said.
But only one goalie is allowed at a time, and Trotz must choose before Game 2. The vote here is Varlamov. That is Boucher’s pick, too.
He said that while the Islanders do not have a clear-cut No. 1, Trotz leaned toward Varlamov in the early rounds, so why not now?
The problem with Game 1, Boucher said, was that while it is difficult to assess Varlamov on those five goals in relief, they could have a lingering psychological effect.
“Do you judge Varlamov on his play from that game?” Boucher said. “I don’t think it’s fair to do that. But the only concern I have about putting him in that situation and having it go sideways is, does the goaltender lose some of the mojo that he had earlier in the playoffs when he looked very, very sharp? Does he lose his confidence?
“To me, that’s a real concern, how mentally tough you are. We’ll see . . . If Varlamov doesn’t present a picture that is one of confidence, maybe they say, ‘We have to go with Thomas Greiss,’ because Thomas Greiss is one of those guys who seems to be always unflappable and calm.”
No matter who Trotz chooses, the high-powered Lightning figure to be an ongoing threat. Boucher believes that calls for the best available option.
“I think Varlamov is a No. 1 goaltender, no question,” he said. “I think Greiss is a two, in my opinion. If I had to put them on a depth chart, I’d say he’s a two. I think he’s a very good two.”
That is useful insurance. But facing a must-win game, Trotz might as well use his best.
“I don’t know if that’s how Trotz sees it,” Boucher said, “but if that’s what he sees I would go with my No. 1 and try to build him up as best as I can.”
If it doesn’t work, the Islanders are toast.