Leighton, who hadn't started a game anywhere in nearly two months, was superb in his first starting assigning in Stanley Cup play, stopping 30 shots to lead the Flyers to a series-tying 2-1 victory over the Boston Bruins at the Wachovia Center on Wednesday night. The Flyers, who dropped the first three games of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series, have won three in a row to force Game 7 at TD Garden in Boston on Friday night.
The Flyers are one win away from becoming the first team in more than three decades to rally from a 3-0 deficit to win a series.
Leighton stopped the last 14 shots in Monday's 4-0 win at Boston after relieving injured starter Brian Boucher and 60 seconds away from posting a shutout of his own when Boston's Milan Lucic banged home a rebound with goalie Tuukka Rask pulled for an extra attacker. Rask stayed on the bench for the final minute, but the Bruins were unable to get a clean chance on goal.
"It feels great," said Leighton, who has stopped 44 of 45 shots to help the Flyers get even in the series. "We can't look too far ahead of this game. We've got to look ahead at the next one, that's the big one. We battled back in this series, and we've done a great job preparing for each game."
The Flyers did all they could in support of their goalie, too, blocking 30 shots, including six by defenseman Matt Carle.
"The team is blocking a lot of shots, doing everything they can to keep it away from me," Leighton said. "They came pretty hard in the third period -- we sat back a little bit and they came at us. I had to make a few saves, and we blocked a lot of shots."
The teams will square off in a Game 7 for the first time -- and it will be played one year to the day that the Bruins lost 3-2 in overtime to Carolina at home in Game 7 of the conference semifinals.
"It's obviously been disappointing that we haven't been able to get that fourth win yet, but we can't let that get to us right now," Lucic said. "You know, missed opportunity. We've had three chances here so far and we haven't been able to do it. They've been playing well, so we have to find a way to break them down."
The last team to rally from a 3-0 series deficit was the 1975 New York Islanders, who beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in the quarterfinals. The Isles nearly repeated the against the Flyers in the semis but lost 4-1 in Game 7 after rallying from an 0-3 hole -- the last team to get to a seventh game after losing the first three. The 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs are the only other team to win a series after losing the first three games.
"We're not going to change a thing," said Leighton, a waiver-wire pickup by the Flyers after early-season injuries decimated their goaltending corps. "We've been playing Game 7 for the last three games."
Rask, who made 25 saves in defeat, remained optimistic.
"You know, it's not over until it's over," he said. "We just focused on the next game and wanted to get that fourth win when we were up, 3-0. We won three straight, and now they won three straight, so it comes down to one game and it's going to be a huge game. I didn't think it was going to be (seven games), but anything can happen in the playoffs."
Flyers captain Mike Richards and Danny Briere scored goals in the first and second periods, respectively. Leighton, who hadn't played in the postseason until Monday while recovering from a high ankle sprain, did the rest.
He came up huge in the second period when he turned aside 12 shots before making nine more in the third as the Bruins began crashing the cage. He made big stops off Dennis Wideman and Miroslav Satan a little over three minutes into the third to keep his team ahead 2-0 and another off a Mark Recchi backhand with 12:35 remaining. He also received a little assistance from the goalpost, which Patrice Bergeron rang just seconds before Recchi's attempt.
Rask also denied Philadelphia's Ville Leino on a penalty shot, with 7:21 remaining in the third, snaring a quick wrist shot with his glove.
The Wachovia Center was loud during the singing of "God Bless America" prior to the opening faceoff -- and got even louder when Richards gave the home team a 1-0 lead at 6:58. Richards controlled the puck during a scramble in front of Rask before snapping home a shot while linemate Daniel Carcillo jabbed away at the goalie's pads.
The Flyers made it 2-0 at 16:20 of the second when Briere picked up his own deflected pass in the right circle and snapped a shot from the lower right circle that beat Rask high on the short side during a 4-on-3 power-play.
"Sometimes it goes in, sometimes it doesn't," Briere said. "At this point, pucks seem to be finding the back of the net for me, so I've been trying to put as many pucks as I can on net. A perfect example was from the goal (Wednesday), where I tried to pass it and when the puck came back to me. I just thought it was meant to be, so I took it to the net and I was thinking shoot after that all the way."
Flyers penalty-killing specialist Blair Betts suffered what appeared to be a pretty significant right shoulder injury after slamming hard into the boards late in the second period. He skated gingerly off the ice favoring that shoulder and didn't return in the third period. It's the same shoulder he has twice dislocated this season -- the last time coming in November. General Manager Paul Holmgren told the media after the game that he expects Betts to be in the lineup on Friday.
Shift of the game: Flyers goalie Michael Leighton, making his first career playoff start, passed his first big test with his team holding a 1-0 lead and on the power play 11:14 into the opening period. That's when Boston's Trent Whitfield took an outlet pass from Steve Begin in the neutral zone and broke in 1-on-1 with a chance to even the score and perhaps rattle the goalie. Whitfield's forehand snap shot hit a perfectly positioned Leighton right in the Flyers' crest and the hometown faithful roared their approval.
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