The playoffs are made for goalies to become unlikely heroes. No-namers like Blackhawks goalie Antti Niemi and Flyers netminder Michael Leighton went from free agency and the minors to Stanley Cup starters in 2010. In 2006, Cam Ward was unheard of and for good reason. The Hurricanes goalie was absolutely terrible in 2005-06, allowing 3.68 goals per game with an .882 save percentage during the regular season. In the playoffs, he had a 2.14 GAA and .920 save percentage. The small sample of games mixed with an increased emphasis on blocking shots and hitting gives almost any goalie a shot at the limelight.
This year's early favorite for the Unlikely Hero Award is Brian Boucher. Philadelphia's goalie has a story that reads like something written by Homer. Here's the short version: he was pretty bad in the WHL and pretty bad with the Philadelphia Phantoms of the AHL, but somehow he got a shot with the big club in 1999-2000 and was excellent, allowing less than two goals per game and leading the team to the Eastern Conference Finals. After regressing to the mean over the next two seasons, the Flyers sent him packing. Boucher was traded to the Phoenix Coyotes where he set the record for longest shutout streak in NHL history. Then he regressed to the mean with .894 and .906 save percentages and was let go.
Three teams and three awful performances later, Boucher got hot with the San Jose Sharks, putting up a .917 save percentage in 22 games. So he got another shot with the goalie-starved Philadelphia Flyers. His injury in 2009-10 opened the door for Leighton. Now, as the Flyers face the Buffalo Sabres in the first round, the poor performance of Sergei Bobvrosky cracked that same door open for Boucher. Watch out, Sabres.
Boucher's first two appearances have all the makings of one of those unexplainable hot streaks. After relieving Bobvrosky in Game 2, the Flyers' goalie has stopped 55 of 58 shots and won both games against Buffalo.