CHICAGO – It’s not often you go to the Stanley Cup final and the All-Star Game breaks out, but that’s what happens when an unheralded goaltender proves why he’s so, well, unheralded and the two best defensive teams in the playoffs take a few days off and forget how to defend.
On the same night Roy Halladay pitched a perfect game for the Philadelphia Phillies, his counterpart, Flyers goalie Michael Leighton, gave up the equivalent of five tape-measure home runs while doing a Roberto Luongo imitation in a 6-5 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final. As a result, Chelsea Dagger by The Fratellis – the song that plays at the United Center after the Hawks score – got more airplay than Wavin’ Flag.
Giving Leighton a run for his money in the department of brutality was the Blackhawks defensive zone coverage and the ice surface at the United Center, which sent pucks bouncing everywhere.
When asked whether the ice was bad, Blackhawks center John Madden responded, “It’s always bad here.”
So with it just about being June and all, we’re just going to have to get used to that. What is a little tougher to adjust to is the fact these two teams, who have been very good at shutting things down during these playoffs, could play with the same defensive focus as they would during a pre-season game. It didn’t help, of course, that Leighton, who had been spectacular through these playoffs, allowed five goals on 20 shots and while Brian Boucher was respectable in relief, did not play the Tomas Kopecky winner very well.
“I don’t remember too many games like that,” said Flyers center Daniel Briere, who had four points in the game. “The frustrating thing is you can’t blame the goaltending.”
Man, that’s like the unrestricted free agent who says with a straight face he hasn’t even thought about his contract status. But the Flyers have little choice but to rally around their goaltending, armed with the knowledge they might just have run out of goaltending mulligans for the season.
“He has rebounded all season long,” Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger said of Leighton. “In games earlier in the season before he got hurt, if we threw up a stinker, we were better and he was, too. Game 3 in Montreal was a prime example. We were all bad on a lot of fronts.”
For his part, Leighton did not duck out of the spotlight after his performance, proving after the game he was a stand-up guy. But the Flyers have to be concerned at how the Blackhawks seemed to have found a chink in the armor – and it is situated right above Leighton’s catching glove. We never really saw that from the Montreal Canadiens in the conference final because the Flyers defense had done such a good job of keeping the Canadiens shooters to the perimeter.
“I have to make more saves and that’s the bottom line,” Leighton said. “I’m not totally disappointed at the way I played. I felt all right, but every time they had a good chance they scored. They made a couple of good shots and these guys make good money to score goals and sometimes you have to tip your hat to them.”
Clearly, though, the demise for the Flyers was in Leighton’s inability to stop those chances when it mattered most. The Flyers led the game three times, but the time span in which they were ahead was a total of just 4:57. That, of course, is also a testament to the Blackhawks depth of talent and their ability to explode offensively.
But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t strange. It’s not often the Blackhawks can count on getting zero power plays and no points from either Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane and put up a six-spot. How weird was it? Well, consider the Hawks top line of Toews, Kane and Dustin Byfulgien and the Flyers top unit of Richards, Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne combined for zero points and a minus-16.
Sure makes a guy wonder what these two teams have in store for Game 2. If this keeps up, the hockey purists will be cringing and Roger Neilson will be rolling over in his grave, but you have to admit, it’s fun to watch.
Ken Campbell is on the road following the Stanley Cup final and will be filing reports until a champion is crowned. To read is entries, click HERE.
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