CHRISTIAN Boucher acknowledges he will be the busier netminder when Hull Stingrays face-off against Nottingham Panthers in the Elite League play-off semi-finals on Saturday evening.
The 28-year-old Ontario-born goalie played an instrumental role in his team pulling off last weekend’s shock first round win over two legs against Sheffield Steelers, particularly in the second game at Ice Sheffield when he turned away 34 shots, with Derek Campbell’s hat-trick at the other end securing a 5-2 win on the night and a 7-4 aggregate triumph to take Hull to their first-ever play-off finals weekend.
But, as is often the case in such big games, Saturday’s clash with clear favourites Nottingham could come down to how well the respective netminders perform.
Over the course of the season, Boucher has certainly been the busier of the two, facing an average of 37.1 shots per game, compared to opposite number Craig Kowalski who has had 24.8 shots fired at him. As a result, Boucher - having played one game more than the Panthers first-choice stopper - has faced a total of 2341 shots, 801 more than Kowalski.
Despite such numbers, Boucher has maintained a save percentage of 90, while Kowalski is second in the netminding charts with a save percentage of 92.3.
Boucher is aware he will have to be at peak form on Saturday - much like he was in both games against Sheffield - if Hull are to stand any chance of causing a second major upset and reaching Sunday’s play-off final.
To watch Christian Boucher look ahead to the play-off weekend click PLAY at the top of the page.
“We’re playing Nottingham and they are a team who have got skill all around, right through the team,” said Boucher. “There are not many weak links on that team so I’m going to expect to the busier goalie - it’s been like that every time we’ve played them.
“But sometimes it’s harder when you’re not facing as many shots. If you look at the game against Sheffield, for instance where (John) DeCaro only faced five shots or something in the second period, you can get a little nervous if the other goalie is stopping everything and your team can’t put the puck in the net.
“So I’m looking forward to the challenge and we know it’s going to be a team defensive game as it was against Sheffield where we made it hard for them to put the puck in the net.”
Watch Hull Stingrays’ player-coach Sylvain Cloutier interviewed ahead of the play-off semi-final HERE
Read the verdict of Sheffield Steelers’ Rod Sarich on the key players for Hull Stingrays and Nottingham Panthers HERE
So far this season, Hull have faced Nottingham seven times, losing on each occasion with one of the games doubling up as a League/Challenge Cup encounter.
Hull’s biggest defeat to Nottingham came over the Christmas period when they went down 9-3 at home to Corey Neilson’s team. But on that occasion they were only able to ice seven imports and Boucher is more encouraged by other encounters between the two teams, particularly earlier in the season when they were twice separated by only one goal.
“I think we’ve got another big game in us - another shock,” added Boucher. “It has been either one-goal games (against Nottingham) or blowouts for us. But there’s no reason for us not going to bring our A-game into this weekend.
“We’re all really pumped up right now and that’s what Stingrays hockey is all about. When we’re playing good hockey and we’re excited and working hard we are a good team.
“I think Nottingham will be feeling some pressure - they know we’ve just beaten Sheffield. Teams know in this league that when Hull Stingrays play good hockey we’re a good hockey club.
“I’ve heard coaches say that, they respect us - it all depends sometimes on which team shows up.
“It’s play-off hockey and I know Corey Neilson knows what we’re going to bring and his guys will be aware so they’ll be ready as well - I think it’s going to be a good game.”
Watch highlights of Hull’s 5-2 second leg play-off win against Sheffield Steelers HERE