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Flyers lose, Leighton loses his touch

NHL.com @NHL

CHICAGO (AP) -The Philadelphia Flyers couldn't keep up with the Chicago Blackhawks and Michael Leighton couldn't stop them, either.

Leighton gave up five goals on 20 shots and was pulled for Brian Boucher late in the second period, a rough start for the Flyers as they lost Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals 6-5 on Saturday night.

Boucher actually gave up the winner in this wild, back-and-forth game, as a tough-angle shot by Tomas Kopecky slid around the goalie's stick with 11:35 left and sent the United Center crowd into an earsplitting frenzy.

On the same night Phillies ace Roy Halladay gave his sports-crazy city a perfect game to cheer about, Leighton and the Flyers were, well, anything but perfect.

Though the goals weren't all his fault, Leighton lost leads of 1-0, 3-2 and 4-3 before finally being pulled, his incredible shutout streak sure seeming like a long time ago.

It was Boucher's sprained knee in the conference semifinals that gave Leighton this opportunity in the first place, after being held off the postseason roster while recovering from an ankle injury.

Leighton stepped in to finish the epic 0-3 series comeback against Boston and then spurred the Flyers past Montreal in the conference finals to get here, going 6-1 and turning aside 95 percent of the shots he faced after taking over. That included a career-changing stretch in which he didn't give up a goal for nearly 173 minutes of ice time.

This, though, wasn't the way he hoped to play against the team that once drafted him.

Leighton's counterpart, Antti Niemi, wasn't exactly steady himself. Niemi took a big risk midway through the second period by chasing a puck into the high slot, successfully retreating to cover the net after the Flyers missed two chances to punch it in.

Dave Bolland's early goal for the Blackhawks was lost in the five-goal flurry of the highest-scoring first period in the Stanley Cup finals since 1982, but it loomed large later as another preventable mistake by the Flyers.

Braydon Coburn, part of a solid second unit on Philly's blue line, was bull-rushed by Bolland and lost the puck to give up a costly breakaway that Leighton couldn't stop. That gave the Hawks a 2-1 edge and though the Flyers responded, Leighton and finally Boucher kept surrendering goals.

The Flyers' top line of Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne was on the ice for Bolland's goal, and this trio didn't give them much in this game. Game 2 at the United Center is set for Monday night, and they'll need more then, both on offense and in goal.

Kris Versteeg shot his own rebound in off Leighton's shoulder to tie the game at 4. Then came Troy Brouwer's second goal for the Blackhawks, the knockout for Leighton with 4:42 remaining in the middle frame.

Leighton tilted his mask back, skating to the boards and flipping his stick back and forth as he wiped his chin with his blocker and reached for the water bottle. His mouth partially open, Leighton looked a little bewildered as if he were wondering, "How did this happen?" while Flyers coach Peter Laviolette sent Boucher in to relieve him.

"We left too many point-blank opportunities," the coach said afterward. He refused to single out Leighton for the loss.

"Tonight, we lost as a team," he said.

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