As the world prepared to celebrate the beginning of 2004, Brian Boucher was a backup goalie for the Phoenix Coyotes who had recently been demoted to third, had only started once in the first 15 games of the season, and had been exposed to the waiver draft. What’s more, he had not had a shutout in 85 games. Then, on December 31, 2003, he had the first of five consecutive shutouts. He tied the 55-year (modern) record set by Montreal Canadiens goalie Bill Durnan with the fourth shutout on January 7, 2004 and passed it with the fifth on January 9. At that point he said, “I’m really not sure how to keep this in perspective. It’s just an unbelievable ride right now. The great thing is, it’s a team game. Everybody’s enjoying it, not just myself.”
For the first shutout, on December 31, the Coyotes hosted the Los Angeles Kings. Boucher made 21 saves for his first shutout with the Coyotes and eighth of his career. At the time he promised, “It won’t be 85 games until I get another one.” The 4-0 victory was the first win at Glendale Arena and before their third straight sellout crowd.
The Coyotes then went on the road. For the second shutout, on January 2, they defeated the Dallas Stars 6-0 at the American Airlines Center. Boucher made 35 saves for the Coyotes’ first back-to-back shutout since March 2000. He humbly told the press, “It’s nice to contribute. . . . I certainly want to do my part to give them the chance to win.”
On January 4, Boucher joined a more exclusive club. Only 17 goalies had had three straight shutouts (since 1948-49). He made 26 saves for the 3-0 win over the Carolina Hurricanes at the RBC Center. Coyotes coach Bobby Francis explained, “Right now, the puck looks like a beach ball to Bouch. He’s following it, he’s seeing it, he’s squared up and his concentration level is outstanding.” According to defenseman Brad Ference, Boucher told his teammates, “I’ll make the first save, you guys just get the rebounds.” The team did their best to block shots to help him. Boucher himself commented, “I’ve felt good the last little while, but there’s a lot of things that go into it. It’s a team game, and there’s a little bit of luck involved, too. If not, everybody would get a shutout every single night. But it’s a special time right now, for sure. I’m just enjoying it and, hopefully, ride it as long as you can ride it.”
Although Coach Francis was letting Boucher ride his heat wave, both coach and goalie made sure to clarify that Sean Burke remained the Coyotes’ first goaltender. Francis told Burke, “Brian’s playing extremely well, he deserves the opportunity, and you’d want the same if you were in the same situation.” Burke has been “overly gracious” saying “his only concern is seeing the team get into the playoffs and that Boucher’s recent play can help get Phoenix there.” Burke had the best save percentage (.919) in the NHL over the past five seasons. Boucher jokingly said, “When I allow my first goal, they should pull me.”
On January 7, he tied a record that had stood for 55 years when he earned his fourth consecutive shutout. “It’s quite an honor,” said Boucher. “I can’t even think of the words to describe it.” His 27 saves led to a 3-0 victory over the Washington Capitals at the MCI Center. Boucher “never seemed to let his emotions get to him” and stopped himself from fist bumping with about 23 seconds remaining in the game. He explained, “As a goalie, you never want to let your guard down. They might have scored.” Although he had not gone into the game expecting another shutout, he commented, “But we’ve pulled together on this road trip, and it’s pretty awesome.”
The record-breaking fifth shutout came on January 9 in a 2-0 victory over the Minnesota Wild at the Xcel Energy Center. Boucher’s 21 saves not only gave him the most shutouts but also the longest time without a goal against, 325:45. The only two goalies to have more time dated back to before players could forward pass with the old records (six shutouts and 461:29 in minutes) held by Alex Connell from 1927-28.
“It’s so extraordinary, and for a lot of reasons. You think of the history of the game and the accomplishment that has been made…it’s just incredible.” Wayne Gretzky, the Coyotes’ managing partner, commented, “We may never see anything like this again in sports.” Even though the Coyotes were away, the crowd gave a loud standing ovation when Boucher was given the first star of the game. Boucher said, “It’s taking on a thing of its own. Guys are playing so hard right now. They don’t want to be the line that goes out there and blows coverage. It feels like a playoff atmosphere.”
Boucher’s wild ride finally came to an end on January 11, at the first game back at Glendale Arena. With a fluke bounce off a Coyotes defenseman, the Atlanta Thrashers scored a power-play goal on Boucher at 6:16 of the first period. Boucher had made 147 saves in 332:01 before his streak ended. At that point, the Coyotes (having received permission in advance) stopped the game to congratulate Boucher and play a tribute video. Boucher later commented, “It was very nice and I’m flattered they did that. I certainly wasn’t expecting that.” The game ended in a 1-1 tie without any scoring in overtime, so Boucher at least remained undefeated.
The goaltender equipment from the shutout streak was sent to the Hockey Hall of Fame right after the January 11th game. It was good timing, according to equipment man Stan Wilson, because Boucher’s pads were falling apart. Although Boucher himself only had one other season of playing at least 40 games, he remained in the NHL until 2013.
- Tim Tyers, “Boucher’s shutout gives team 1st win in new arena” and “Boucher tosses shutout; Coyotes control temper,” Arizona Republic, 1 Jan. 2004, p. C1 and C6.
- Bob McManaman, “Coyotes post 2nd straight shutout” and “Wins make Boucher unlikely to be traded,” Arizona Republic, 3 Jan. 2004, p. C1 and C4.
- Bob McManaman, “Boucher stays on fire, nets 3rd straight shutout” and “Discipline keys shutout run,” Arizona Republic, 5 Jan. 2004, p. C1 and C6.
- Bob McManaman, “Coyotes play hot hand,” Arizona Republic, 6 Jan. 2004, p. C7.
- Bob McManaman, “4 the record: Boucher ties 55-year-old shutout mark,” Arizona Republic, 8 Jan. 2004, p. C1 and C6.
- Paola Boivin, “Coyotes goalie on a roll” Arizona Republic, 9 Jan. 2004, p. A1-2.
- Bob McManaman, “Streaking goalie Boucher goes from outcast to Coyotes star,” Arizona Republic, 9 Jan. 2004, p. C1 and C6.
- Bob McManaman, “Boucher remains perfect” and “Game’s evolution makes record more impressive,” Arizona Republic, 11 Jan. 2004, p. C1 and C6.
- David Vest, “Chasing shutout No. 6,” Arizona Republic, 11 Jan. 2004, p. C1 and C6.
- Tim Tyers, “Bad bounce doesn’t make Tanabe regret spot on ice” and “Fluke goal was a record breaker,” Arizona Republic, 12 Jan. 2004, p. C1 and C6.
- Bob McManaman, “Amazing ride concludes,” Arizona Republic, 12 Jan. 2004, p. C1 and C6.