A Look At The Last 15 Years Of Flyers Playoff Goaltending

Image via goaliesarchive.com

In judging Ilya Bryzgalov’s, um… interesting (?) job in net so far through this playoff run, I ran across the assessment of “I’d rank him Leighton” (h/t to our own Jim Hasson).

Where would Leighton’s run rank in recent Flyers playoff history?  Their history in this area certainly hasn’t been pretty since the Flyers made a run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1997.

Below is my ranking of the Flyers’ playoff goalies in the past 15 years based on scientific research, public polling, and the influence of numerous beer-fueled conversations.

1.       Brian Boucher
His entire rookie course in 2000 was absolutely stellar and the Flyers’ loss in the Eastern Conference Finals to the New Jersey Devils was not his fault (blame Scott Stevens’ robotic torso).  “Boosh” posted a 2.03 goals-against and .918 save percentage during the first postseason run in the new Millennium and provided a highlight-reel save to boot. The Rhode Island native gained a measure of redemption through his solid play when the Flyers ousted the Devils in the first round of the 2010 run.

2.       Michael Leighton
Leighton will live in infamy here after he let up a terrible, awful goal to Patrick Kane in overtime of Game 6 in the Stanley Cup Finals, killing all of our souls. This is all we tend to remember about him, and for good reason.  However, Leighton’s performance in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Montreal Canadiens was stellar.  His three shutouts in that round are a Flyers’ playoff record.  Overall he posted a 2.46 GAA and had a 0.916 save percentage.  Give Leights a break!

3.       Robert Esche
We called him Silent Bob due to his fantastic beard and quiet, quirky demeanor.  Robert Esche might be the people’s champ for fondly remembered playoff performances in recent Flyers history.  The Flyers took a young and fast Tampa Bay Lightning team to seven games in 2004 on the back of Esche, who did all he could to keep that exhausted team in the race.  Esche posted a 2.32 GAA and a save percentage of .916.

4.       Marty Biron
We had high hopes for Biron when he initially arrived in Philadelphia from Buffalo in the late Winter of 2007.  He was always solid if not great.  The Flyers’ march to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2008 (I see a recurring theme here) was certainly due in large part to his efforts, even if the stats are only okay.  This was yet another year where the Flyers ran into a buzz saw of a team, this time the Pittsburgh Penguins (ugh).

5.       John Vanbiesbrouck
The Beezer only got one run at it in 1999 and put up stellar numbers.  In 6 games he put up a 1.46 GAA and had a 0.938 save percentage.  HE LET UP 9 GOALS IN THE ENTIRE SERIES AND THEY STILL LOST!  I don’t remember that series very well and have been told that the goals he let up weren’t great, but there’s no reason the Flyers should have lost that series with a performance like that.

6.       Roman Cechmanek
He’s not in last place!  Roman Cechmanek is typically considered the brown standard for Flyers playoff goalies.  His first go around with the team was a disaster, posting a 3.12 GAA and .891 save percentage in 6 games — a series marred by an 8-0 loss in the final contest.  The numbers on his other two runs were better than I initially thought however.  He posted GAAs of 1.85 and 2.15 and save percentages of .936 and .909.  So congrats you Czech weirdo, you weren’t the worst playoff goalie for the Flyers in the past 15 years!

7.       Sean Burke
He’s a fantastic goalie coach but the numbers from his one playoff run with the Orange and Black are putrid.  He went 1 and 4 with a 3.60 GAA and 0.860 save percentage in a first-round loss to the Sabres.  Woof!  The next time you criticize Leighton just look at those numbers and remember he was picked over a fading Ron Hextall that year.

There’s clearly some observations to be made here:

- That’s  A LOT of goalies.  I mean wow.  Overwhelming.  Should have stuck with “Boosh!”

- The top 3 is seriously Boucher, Leighton and Esche.  Seriously.  Let that sink in.

- I didn’t include Sergei Bobrovsky because he barely played.  His results have been all over the board.  Also, is it really fair to criticize him if he can’t understand any of it without the help of a translator?  All Bobrovsky criticisms from this point should be written in Russian!

- That being said the combo of Bobrovsky, Boucher, and Leighton were deeply disappointing through a total of 11 games last Spring.  It’s always good when two of the top three can kill you like that.  They combined for a 3.19 GAA and .894 save percentage.  It was brutal to watch and also (besides the public edict from Mr. Snider) what you can thank for that nine-year contract shoved in Bryzgalov’s hands.  Huzzah!

- I’m fully aware that much of the Flyers’ success in the 2010 postseason can be attributed in large part to the stellar defensive play of Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, Matt Carle, and Braydon Coburn.  Leighton still had a healthy save percentage and mostly nice results.  Also, look at the rest of that list, it’s not pretty.  An actual win in the Eastern Conference Finals is something that no one else on that list accomplished.

- Major stick tap to Flyers History and Hockey Reference for the stats.

That is the sad history of Flyers goaltending since Garth Snow wore 8 parkas with 90-degree angles at the shoulders under an Orange and Black sweater and called them pads.  Will Bryzgalov step up and be the new #1 as these playoffs move on?  With this list, there’s always a chance.  Who is your favorite of the bunch?

  • Jvr

    good read but it would be be much better without the corny comedy. 

  • Geoffrey Detweiler

    Just want to point out that Boucher stopped 141 of 151 Buffalo shots last year for a 0.934 save percentage and a 2.49 goals against average. 

    Call the Boston series brutal, or Leighton brutal, but Flyers goaltending was fine against Buffalo. Laviolette’s handling of it was embarrasing to watch.

    But also, you rattled off 5 goalies with truly fantastic playoff performances, a sixth that had two fantastic playoff performances and one putrid one, and one putrid one.

    How is that “the sad history of Flyers goaltending”? That’s 6 goalies who performed fantastically in the post-season and Sean Burke.

    • Guest

      Careful…that’s rational thought and logic you’re using.  You’ll upset the narrative.