BOSTON – When Michael Leighton saw Brian Boucher toss his blocker aside, he knew it was time to start getting ready.
The Flyers backup, a former starter who hadn’t played in two months since an injury of his own, began stretching on the ice while the training staff attended to Boucher. A few minutes later Leighton was in the net?preserving the shutout that Boucher started and keeping Philadelphia alive in the playoffs.
“I was a little bit nervous at the start,” Leighton said after stopping 14 shots to beat Boston 4-0 on Monday night and force a sixth game in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals. “I didn’t want to lose the confidence of the team. We scored some goals in the second and it took some pressure off.”
Boucher made nine saves before what appeared to be a left knee injury when two players fell on him during a scramble for a loose puck in the crease. Leighton, who hadn’t played since spraining his ankle on March 16 and had never appeared in the NHL playoffs, finished off the first combined shutout in the Flyers’ post-season history.
“Leighton, after a couple of months, comes in there and plays shutout hockey for a period and a half,” forward Scott Hartnell said. “It doesn’t matter who’s in the pipes for us. We played well in front of him and they made the stops they needed to.”
Simon Gagne scored two goals to follow up his overtime goal in Game 4, and Ville Leino had a goal and an assist to help the Flyers force the series back to Philadelphia for a sixth game on Wednesday night.
If they win, it’s back to Boston for a decisive Game 7.
“It obviously feels a little bit different now,” Flyers defenceman Chris Pronger said. “They’re still sitting in the driver’s seat, so we’ve got to come out with the same intensity in Game 6.”
The 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and the 1975 New York Islanders are the only NHL teams to come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a best-of-seven playoff series.
“I don’t know what the percentages are, but everybody was counting us out,” Hartnell said. “We believe in ourselves. We believe in our system. We’ve just got to keep it going.”
Tuukka Rask stopped 27 shots for Boston, which had led the series 3-0 but missed a second chance to clinch the series and advance to the conference finals for the first time since 1992.
“They came out and slapped us in the face. Now we have to realize it’s a series,” forward Mark Recchi said. “We weren’t on top of our game. We didn’t play well. When you’re not playing well, it doesn’t matter who was in the net or who you’re playing.”
Leino scored off a rebound in front just 6:41 in to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead. It was still close when Boucher went down underneath teammate Ryan Parent and Bruins forward Miroslav Satan with 15:25 left in the second period. The puck was cleared away, but Boucher remained on the ice; a referee whistled the play dead and quickly waved to the Flyers bench.
After the team’s medical staff came out, Leighton stepped onto the ice in a ball cap and began stretching. Boucher eventually skated off with assistance, favouring his left knee as the Boston crowd gave him polite applause.
The team didn’t identify the injury.
Boston put a few quick shots on Leighton to test him – but nothing too challenging – and the Flyers took a 2-0 lead when Hartnell batted Danny Briere’s shot out of the air and into the net with 8:44 left in the second. Gagne one-timed a centring pass from Mike Richards into the net on a power play to make it 3-0 with 2:07 left in the second.
The Boston crowd booed the Bruins off the ice.
And in the third period, it wasn’t much better.
Gagne broke free when Dennis Wideman’s stick broke at the point and the puck trickled into the neutral zone. Wideman could do little but try to get in Gagne’s way, but the Flyers forward easily went around him and in on Rask to make it 4-0 with 13:12 to play.
NOTES: The Bruins went head-to-head with Red Sox-Yankees and Celtics-Cavaliers and averaged an 8.3 local rating on Versus, the Red Sox a 6.3 local rating on NESN and the Celtics a 4.1 local rating on ESPN. That translates to 200,000 households for the Bruins, 153,000 for the Red Sox and 99,000 for the Celtics. … The Bruins dedicated a statue of Bobby Orr outside of the TD Garden to honour the 40th anniversary of his Stanley Cup-winning goal against St. Louis. It shows Orr appearing to fly through the air in celebration. … The Bruins had been 5-0 at home in the playoffs.