Terry Murray must have thought he was a genius in the Spring of 1997.
He had two quality goaltenders: Ron Hextall and Garth Snow. He had the benefit of home-ice advantage in the first round against a mediocre opponent — the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Since Hextall faltered a bit down the stretch as the Flyers eventually lost the Atlantic Division lead and fell to third in the East, Murray hatched a plan so simple it was stupid: Start Snow and let him go as long as he performed well, and when he didn’t turn to the veteran Hextall.
It managed to work through all of the first round, then for four games of the second round against…you guessed it…Buffalo. The suddenly, after allowing five goals in a 5-4 overtime loss in Game 4 with a chance to sweep, Snow was out.
Hextall came in, cold, for Game 5 in Buffalo and won the crucial series-ending road game.
But it was back to Snow when the Orange and Black opened up the Eastern Conference Finals against the New York Rangers. He was less than 30 seconds from a Game 1 shutout, but after being blitzed for five goals — including a Wayne Gretzky hat trick — on 10 shots in less than two periods, it was Hextall to the rescue.
And it was the end of Snow as a starter. With the stakes too high to keep playing crease roulette, Hextall started, and finished, the remaining three games as the Flyers won all three and took home the Wales Conference crown Memorial Day weekend.
Or so we thought.
Hextall faded badly in Game 1 of the Finals against Detroit, letting in two long-distance scores of the four Red Wing goals, that Snow got the nod in Game 2. Snow didn’t fare any better, also allowing four and Philly was in a 2-0 series hole heading back to Michigan.
So it was back to Hextall, who looked feeble in giving up six in a Game 3 blowout defeat. With nothing left to lose, it was Hexy again in Game 4. He did much better, stopping 26 of 28 shots, but allowed one too many in a season-ending 2-1 defeat.
Flash forward 14 years.
Given the choice between Sergei Bobrovsky, a rookie whose performance was erratic as the season progressed, and a mediocre, but playoff-proven veteran in Brian Boucher, Peter Laviolette made the obvious choice: Bobrovsky.
The plan was so simple, it was stupid: Send Bob into the nets for the first round against a mediocre opponent, and leave him there until he proved he would be a detriment to the Stanley-Cup-or-bust ethos of this year’s playoff run.
Well, the leash lasted exactly 72 1/2 minutes this time. Despite allowing a single goal in a 1-0 Game 1 defeat, three scores on seven shots in 12 1/2 minutes of Game 2 earned Bobrovsky a space on the bench. Now Boucher is the starter for Monday’s Game 3 and multiple sources are indicating that Bobrovsky is a healthy scratch.
I guess this proves that if you live long enough, and don’t choose to automatically wipe your memory every five years, you find disturbing patterns that keep cropping up.
Usually writers in my place try to offer a spin, or a slant, based on the course of events and try to convince readers that x or y was the right move at the time. Not me. Not now.
Why didn’t Laviolette, the assistants, or anyone in the front office see that it was the wrong choice to make Bobrovsky the man?
Paging George Santayana…
It has got to be Boucher and if the rumors are true, Leighton, from here on out.
The only right choice from the start was Boucher. The man who got the Flyers through three rounds in 2000. Who redeemed his career from journeyman and borderline-minor-leaguer to trusted backstop until his season-ending knee injury against Boston last year.
It wasn’t fair, and far from right, to let a 22-year-old, not used to playing more than 40 games a season, get chance after chance to prove himself in the stretch run, see him struggle, then still get the nod to begin one of the most pressure-packed postseasons in franchise history.
I don’t get, and I refuse to accept, the rationale that if Bobrovsky faltered, Boucher would be there to mop up. How is that going to affect the rookie’s psyche if he’s getting a hook, put back in, then bound to get the hook again once he inevitably falters?
He’s already quoted today, saying that his mental state is not quite up to par. That’s not good. He’s not ready. We cannot wait for him to “get over it soon.” I hope that realization sticks going forward.
But whatever. Every year with this team, it’s like that parody from a decade-old Simpsons episode — the one where Moe gets a serious face lift and is hired to be the new star on a soap opera titled “It Never Ends.”
Hextall or Snow, or both at the same time?
Burke or Hextall?
Hextall or Vanbiesbrouck?
Vanbiesbrouck or Boucher?
Boucher or Cechmanek?
Cechmanek or another Eastern European mental patient?
Esche or Burke?
Esche or Niittymaki?
Biron or someone else who’s not going to ask for too much money?
Boucher or Leighton?
When will it stop?