"He's given us a steady influence at a critical time that we needed with Ray out of the lineup and Brian getting injured. Michael has taken the ball and kind of ran with it. It's kind of neat to see."
-- Paul Holmgren on Michael Leighton
The big question now, however, is what happens when incumbent starter Ray Emery returns from an abdominal injury and subsequent surgery that has already sidelined him 13 games?
"I probably say this phrase too often, but we'll jump off that bridge when we get to it," Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren said when asked just that.
There's no question Leighton, 28, has played a vital role in the absence of Emery and an injured Brian Boucher, who has won just four of his 15 starts this season. Prior to dropping a 2-1 overtime decision to the Boston Bruins in the 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Fenway Park on New Year's Day, Leighton had strung together four-straight wins for the first time in his six NHL seasons.
It was a streak that saw him post a 1.18 goals-against average and .952 save percentage -- something the club desperately needed as it looked to right the ship to a season that was fading fast.
"I don't want to say I'm surprised (with Leighton's recent play), but he's been around a long time," Holmgren said. "We actually had him before a few years ago and he played in a couple of games. He's given us a steady influence at a critical time that we needed with Ray out of the lineup and Brian getting injured (finger). Michael has taken the ball and kind of ran with it. It's kind of neat to see."
Leighton was just 2:18 from posting his second-straight shutout before the Bruins ended that hope on a power-play goal by Mark Recchi. Marco Sturm would then score the winner 1:57 into overtime to give the host Bruins the memorable outdoor triumph.
Was Leighton thinking shutout with five minutes remaining?
"I kept thinking a shutout would be nice, but just the win would be nice too," Leighton said. "We had a couple of great opportunities and Tim Thomas made some good saves -- we just couldn't finish it off."
Leighton notched his first shutout in five seasons when he turned aside 22 shots in a 6-0 decision over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden Wednesday.
Despite the loss in the Winter Classic, Leighton admitted how great it was to have an opportunity to play in Major League Baseball's oldest ball park.
"You don't realize how big a deal it is until you're actually on the ice -- it was definitely a great experience for me," Leighton said. "My hands and feet were cold, that's about it. The ice got a little chippy towards the end and there were some bad bounces off the boards and stuff. When the sun started going down a little bit in the third period, and we're depending on the lights a little bit more, there was a glare off the ice. Besides that, it was pretty good."
Leighton, who is 5-4-0 with 2.03 GAA and .931 save percentage in seven appearances this season with both Philadelphia and Carolina, admits the overtime winner by Sturm was well executed.
"They kind of came down the wing and held up and threw it at the net," Leighton recalled. "Their guy was driving the center of the ice and just tipped it in -- it was a nice goal."
Leighton allowed two goals in Philadelphia's next game, a 7-4 loss to Ottawa, before he was replaced by Boucher, who absorbed the loss.
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com