FORT WAYNE – Any doubts about goaltender Nick Bouchers preparedness for the playoffs should have been wiped out last weekend, when he stopped 83 of 89 shots and led the Komets to three straight wins against the Dayton Gems to take the top seed in the Turner Conference playoffs.
He was named CHL Goaltender of the Week on Tuesday.
He was selected as the teams MVP, after a vote by his teammates, Sunday.
Those games were important for me just like they were for the team, said Boucher, whose Komets (40-19-7) open a best-of-seven series with the Rapid City Rush (38-22-6) in South Dakota on Friday and Saturday.
I want to go in on a high note and go in with a sense of confidence. Im not a guy who usually has a confidence problem, but you always want to go in having some good games under your belt and in your recent memory.
Boucher was 32-12-4 – he tied for the CHL lead in victories – and he was fourth in goals-against average (2.44), fifth in save percentage (.919) and first in shutouts (three), while playing a league-high 51 games.
He has led the Komets to three playoff championships in his four seasons, including comebacks from 3-1 deficits against Port Huron in the 2008 IHL finals and 2010 IHL semifinals.
Last year, he played in 2 1/2 games – all losses – in the Turner Conference semifinals loss to Rapid City, which went the maximum five games.
The Komets went 4-0-1 against the Rush in the regular season, but the teams havent met since Dec. 3. If you look at the standings, theres not much that separates the top four teams in our conference, Boucher said. Maybe they are a fourth seed, but if you put them in the other conference, theyre near the top. Early in the season, they were a team that was banged up. They were so banged up they had to go to the league to get more (injured reserve) spots, so if you take that away, maybe its a first-place hockey club. Theyre loaded offensively, and hopefully our trap is effective against them like it was at the beginning of the year.
Bouchers backup is Gerry Festa, who was 6-4-3 with a 2.98 GAA and a .902 save percentage after being acquired from Missouri.
Coach Al Sims hasnt been afraid to go with his backup goalie for some playoff games – see Tim Haun in 2010 and Kevin Reiter last year – but Boucher has carried the Komets so much this season that its tough to imagine them not riding him this postseason.
Hes been great all (season), forward Brett Smith said. Hell probably say he had a little bit of a slide (going 0-1-4 before last weekend), but everyone does at times. Through November and December, he was unbelievable, and hes finished strong. Were going to need him all throughout the playoffs.
The Komets were 1-2-4 before sweeping Dayton to finish three points ahead of Evansville and Missouri.
We had not been playing great hockey for (a) couple of weeks, Boucher said. We hadnt been playing poor hockey, but it wasnt the kind of hockey we wanted to be playing heading into the playoffs. So those games (last weekend) were huge for our confidence. It was a huge test of our character.