CHICAGO – Michael Leighton hopes the next chapter in his remarkable story involves a bounce-back performance. It remains to be seen whether he’ll get the chance to write it.
The Philadelphia Flyers journeyman goaltender saw his Stanley Cup debut come to an abrupt end Saturday when he was pulled 35 minutes into a 6-5 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. He was beaten five times on 20 shots in a wild opener to the NHL’s championship series.
“Yes, it’s tough,” said Leighton. “But we know that, all around defensively, we didn’t have a good game. In order to beat this team, we have to play better defensively, and I have to be better. I have to make some saves at key times.”
Only coach Peter Laviolette knows whether he’ll be back in goal for Game 2 on Monday night.
He wasn’t saying very much in the wake of Saturday’s loss. Asked about the decision to send Brian Boucher in for Leighton, Laviolette replied: “Everybody has got to be better. We win as a team and we lose as a team. Tonight we lost as a team.”
Leighton has made for a good story during these playoffs—taking the reigns when Boucher was injured during the second round and winning six of seven games to get the Flyers to the final. It was an amazing run for a 29-year-old who has bounced from organization to organization and had doubts about the direction of his career as recently as this season.
He was pretty shaky in the spotlight on Saturday.
“Am I disappointed I got pulled? Of course,” said Leighton. “But every time they got a good opportunity they were scoring goals. I’ve got to make a few of those saves.”
The goal he figures should have been stopped was the one scored by Troy Brouwer to make it 1-1 at 7:46 of the first period. Leighton said he briefly lost sight of the puck before Brouwer one-timed a hard shot past him.
He had trouble getting comfortable in the early stages of the game.
“Maybe it’s because I didn’t play for five or six days—had a little break—and I’ve just got to get back into it,” said Leighton.
Goaltending was seen as a major storyline heading into this series and nothing about the opening game changed that. Chicago’s Antti Niemi also had a bit of a tough night, although coach Joel Quenneville said he never considered making a switch.
Even with an unheralded goaltender at each end of the ice, few would have predicted there’d be 11 goals scored in the biggest game of the season for both teams.
“A lot of action,” said Quenneville. “Shootout at the OK Corral.”
The focus for both sides will no doubt be on tightening up in the defensive end moving forward.
Several of the Flyers came to Leighton’s defence and indicated that they were just as responsible for the goal barrage.
“A lot of those goals weren’t his fault,” said forward Scott Hartnell. “They were going right under the bar, one-timers from the slot. We’ve just got to do a better job … and not make our goalies have to make unbelievable saves every time.”
Leighton felt like he was left alone a little bit.
“I don’t think both teams were too worried about defence,” he said. “They were worried about scoring goals.”