2010 NHL Playoffs: Better Leighton Than Never

Matthew Hogan@MattNHLHoganAnalyst IMay 18, 2010

PHILADELPHIA - MAY 12:  Michael Leighton #49 of the Philadelphia Flyers takes  a break during his game against the Boston Bruins in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Finals at the Wachovia Center on May 12, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Flyers defeated the Bruins 2-1.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Heading into the 2009-10 regular season, goaltender Michael Leighton had started just 60 games in his five-year career in the NHL—but a change of scenery combined and a second and third chance has provided the 29-year-old with all the motivation he needed.

Leighton had a horrible seven-game stretch with the Carolina Hurricanes to start the season. He went 1-4 with the Canes, posting a 4.28 goals-against average and a .848 save percentage in the process.

After a leg injury in November, Carolina picked up Manny Legace and had no need for Leighton.

Leighton was picked up on waivers by the Philadelphia Flyers on Dec. 15.

The Flyers had a surprisingly poor start to their season, and were a season-worst three games below .500 on Dec. 23 when Leighton got his first start for the team.

The only thing more surprising than the beginning of the Flyers’ regular season was the play of Leighton in his first several games with his new team. He was 8-0-1 in his first nine starts with Philly and went 16-5-2 overall.

It appeared that Leighton, after seasons of searching, had finally found his groove, but it didn’t last long. Philly’s new-found hope went down with a high ankle sprain in a game against the Nashville Predators on March 16.

After almost two months of sitting on the sidelines, fate gave Leighton another chance.

Philadelphia’s starting goalie Brian Boucher went down with an ugly knee injury in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Boston Bruins, and Leighton got a chance to play in his first ever playoff game—and he did not disappoint.

Leighton entered Game Five with the Flyers leading 1-0. He went on to stop all 14 shots that he faced in route to a 4-0 victory.

Leighton’s brilliance continued in Game Six where he stopped 30 of 31 shots in a 2-1 victory.

Despite letting in three first-period goals in Game Seven, Leighton blanked the Bruins for the remainder of the game to help the Flyers complete a miraculous 3-0 comeback.

In Game One of the Conference Finals, Leighton stopped all 28 shots he faced, out-dueling the red-hot Jaroslav Halak and defeating the Montreal Canadiens 6-0.

“We didn’t come out as well as we wanted to,” Flyers’ forward Daniel Briere told the Associated Press after the win. “Michael was ready right from the start. If it wasn’t for him, it could've been a different story.”

Leighton has stopped 94 of the 98 shots he has faced in the postseason so far, and also has a current shutout streak of 105 minutes, 50 seconds heading into Game Two.

The revival of Leighton’s play is another amazing story from this year’s NHL playoffs—if he were to lead the Flyers to the Stanley Cup, it would be a story that would go down in history.


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