2010 NHL Playoffs: Michael Leighton Celebrates His Birthday In Style

Mike KellyContributor IMay 19, 2010

PHILADELPHIA - MAY 18:  Michael Leighton #49 of the Philadelphia Flyers reacts after defeating the Montreal Canadiens by a score of 3-0 to win Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Wachovia Center on May 18, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Legendary rocker Pete Townsend is celebrating his 65th birthday today. While Townsend didn't write the song, "Won’t Get Fooled Again" about fellow birthday boy Michael Leighton, the title certainly applies to the 29-year old's recent hot streak.

The journeyman goaltender is turning heads, by standing on his, in the Conference Final against Montreal. Two games, two wins, and two shutouts have answered what many of us wondered before this series began.

Could Philadelphia beat the Canadiens with such a mismatch in goal?

Well, there is a mismatch. But after two games, it appears the mismatch favors the Flyers.

Jaroslav Halak has been pedestrian while Michael Leighton has been prodigious.

However, as is often the case with goaltenders, Leighton's road to success has been a long and unpredictable one.

Leighton's travels have been well documented. He's bounced back-and-forth between the minor and major leagues. The Ontario native has played for five minor league teams, and has made five separate stops in the National Hockey League.

I guess the tenth time's the charm.

The roller-coaster 2009-10 season has been unpredictable, and unnerving, for Leighton.

The 11-year veteran started the season as the third string goalie in Carolina, behind Cam Ward and Manny Legace.

In December, when the Flyers announced that Ray Emery was out indefinitely with an abdominal injury, Leighton was brought in to back-up Brian Boucher. The waiver claim cost Philly a mere $11,250.

Within a month, Leighton had played his way into the starting role, posting a 12-3-1 record in the six weeks that followed.

However, the Olympic break seemed to sap some of that momentum.

Leighton went 4-2-1 after the break, before the injury bug claimed a fourth Flyer goalie. Leighton’s regular season came to an end in mid-March due to a high ankle sprain, which was expected to keep him out of action for a minimum of two months.

Boucher took over, and helped the Flyers limp into the post-season with a shootout win on the final day of the season.

Leighton spent his time re-habbing, and was deemed healthy just in time to see Boucher’s season ending knee injury in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Semis.

Back in the saddle, Leighton was asked to backstop Philadelphia to a record setting comeback.

Only two teams, the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and the 1975 New York Islanders, had come back from three games down to win a playoff series in NHL history.

With Leighton at the helm, Philly won Game Six on Broad Street, setting the stage for a seventh game in Boston.

After Leighton allowed three goals in the first period, it appeared that goal-tending would indeed prove to be the Flyers' Achilles heel.

However, Leighton’s teammates picked him up, scoring four straight goals to win the game, and the series.

It has been smooth sailing since.

One month ago, the career back-up was on the injured reserve list, no doubt wondering where his sixth stop in the NHL would be.

Now, he is six wins away from leading the Flyers to their first Stanley Cup in 35 years.

He’s the toast of a town known for eating its own.

Set to become a free agent on July 1, Leighton might be able to decide his own fate for once. Odds are re-signing the emerging fan favorite will cost a few dollars more than what Philadelphia paid to claim him.

Whether Leighton and the Flyers can go all the way in these playoffs remains to be seen . However one thing is certain.

After living out of a suitcase for a decade, Leighton is on a path to earning what he has wished for all these years. A chance to unpack.

What a birthday present that would be.


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