PHILADELPHIA – The Montreal Canadiens are finding out in a hurry that Michael Leighton is more than the back-up goaltender many thought him to be.
Leighton stoned the Canadiens for a second straight game on Tuesday night, stopping 30 shots for his second consecutive shutout as the Philadelphia Flyers downed Montreal 3-0 to take command of the NHL Eastern Conference final.
With the 28 saves he made in a 6-0 win to open the best-of-seven series, Leighton has now stopped all 58 shots Montreal has thrown his way to take a 2-0 lead heading into Game 3 on Thursday night in Montreal.
He performance recalled Flyers legend Bernie Parent, who posted back-to-back shutouts in the team’s Broad Street Bullies era in the 1970s.
”It’s an honour, but the win means more to me,” said Leighton, a much-travelled 28-year-old fro Petrolia, Ont., who has spent much of his career in the minors. ”But it could have been 3-1 and I’d be just as happy.”
The six-foot-three goalie, who replaced injured starter Ray Emery during the season and stepped into the playoffs after Brian Boucher got hurt, has now won all four of the first post-season starts of his career.
Daniel Briere scored in the first period, Simon Gagne got one in the second and Ville Leino scored in the third for the Flyers, who had two goals on four power play chances and held Montreal to 0-for-4 with the man advantage.
The Canadiens, who had the league’s second-best power play this season, are 0-for-8 in the series.
”We had some good chances, we competed, but the difference was the special teams,” said Habs coach Jacques Martin.
Montreal had a 30-23 shot advantage and controlled the puck for much of the game, but other than a wild first-period power play when they had seven shots, the Flyers defence allowed few chances from dangerous spots in the slot or in front of the crease.
”We’ve got to do something,” said Canadiens centre Scott Gomez. ”We’ve got to create more in front, get our shots through.
”The guy (Leighton) is making some key saves, but we’ve got to find a way—get an ugly one and go from there.”
The Flyers, who won four straight in their seven-game comeback win over Boston, have now won six consecutive playoff games for the first time since 1995. They have also scored 13 straight goals without giving one up to an opponent.
”The thing I like is that we all feel we haven’t played out best game yet, and we still have a lot to prove,” said Briere. ”I think that’s a positive—that we still have more in the tank. We’ve been winning, but it’s not a fluke.”
Philadelphia is 16-0 all-time when going up 2-0 in a series.
It was a second difficult game for goaltender Jaroslav Halak. The hero of Montreal’s upset wins over Washington and Pittsburgh in the first two rounds was only somewhat better after he was pulled for allowing four goals in 14 shots in Game 1.
Halak now has a 7-2-1 career record in games after he was pulled. He bounced back with strong performances in the first two rounds after being pulled but couldn’t do it this time.
The game opened exactly as it did in Game 1, with Montreal getting an early power play negated by a call against Gomez and then Philadelphia scoring with their man advantage.
Last game, it was Braydon Coburn at 3:55 of the first period. This time, it was Briere roofing a shot from close range at 4:16 for his ninth of the post-season to give the Flyers the lead.
And like Game 1, Montreal dominated the shots—13-6 last time, 16-6 this time—but couldn’t beat Leighton for a fourth straight period. The difference was that this time Montreal also dominated the play.
The Canadiens had the puck much of the second frame as well, but got few good chances and the Flyers extended their lead with their second power-play goal in as many chances.
Gagne bumped the puck free from Jaroslav Spacek and went to the side of the net to bang home a rebound at 15:29 for his sixth goal in as many games since returning from a toe injury. For a second game in a row, the fans in Flyers orange T-shirts mocked Montreal by singing their “Ole Ole” celebration song.
Mike Cammalleri, Montreal’s hottest scorer with 12 post-season goals, had a glorious chance when he picked off a Coburn pass in the slot 17 minutes into the second, but shot into Leighton’s chest.
Any drama ended at 10:24 of the third, when Leino went down the left wing and put a tight-angled shot inside the far post that Halak only waved at.
The Canadiens made a surprise roster change, bringing Sergei Kostitsyn back after 10 games and sitting out the unproductive Benoit Pouliot, who has yet to score in 15 playoff games. Kostitsyn joined a sparingly used line with Glen Metropolit and Travis Moen.
Notes: Jeff Carter (toe) and Ian Laperriere (concussion) are skating, but aren’t ready to return yet for the Flyers. . . There was speculation that defenceman Ryan O’Byrne would return for Montreal, but he was scratched for a third straight game. . . The Flyers had lost Game 2 in each of the first two rounds. . . Montreal is now 14-2 in Game 2 of third round series all-time.