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Flyers' rookie Leino looks like a vet

by Mike G. Morreale
PHILADELPHIA -- For a rookie, forward Ville Leino has a lot of veteran savvy.
Perhaps it's because, at 26, Leino is older than a lot of the veterans he plays with.
The native of Savonlinna, Finland, established a pair of franchise rookie records on Friday night before a sellout crowd of 20,304 at the Wachovia Center to help lead the Philadelphia Flyers to a 5-3 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final.
But it didn't come without a price.
Only 7:12 into the opening period, Leino was shouldered by Chicago defenseman Brian Campbell along the boards at center ice and remained on one knee for a few seconds before slowly making his way to the bench while hunched over.
But, like an old warrior, he returned for his very next shift and proved to be an invaluable contributor in the biggest game of the season for the Flyers.
"I got the wind knocked out of me little bit and I had a little spasm on my back and I got to get treatment on that," Leino said. "I'm fine right now and we have to rest (Saturday) and we'll have a treatment again and I'll be 100 percent next game."
Leino's third goal of the Cup Final at 6:43 of the third period would prove to be the difference as Philadelphia evened the best-of-7 series with the Hawks at two wins apiece, with Game 5 in back in Chicago on Sunday night.
After taking a feed from Danny Briere in the neutral zone, Leino deftly skated down his right wing before entering the right circle. He stopped and drifted into the slot before releasing a wrist shot that hit off the back of Chicago forward Kris Versteeg and caromed between goalie Antti Niemi and the left post.
"He was standing right there, in front of the net," Leino said of Versteeg. "So I figured maybe I can shoot straight in. I missed the shot a little bit there, hit him on the back and it was a lucky goal."
The goal, his second game-winner of the playoffs, provided the Flyers a 4-1 cushion. His seventh of the playoffs also helped him surpass the previous team rookie record of six goals set in 1976 by Mel Bridgman, while also besting the franchise rookie standard for points in a playoff season. Leino now has 16 points, which tops Brian Propp's previous first-year mark of 15 established in 1980.
"You want to give everything you got to the team," Leino said. "You want to be accountable defensively, too. It's not enough if you are good offensively if you get scored on all the time. I think everybody is doing it now. Everybody is a good example to the other guys."
For the record, Leino is a plus-6 in 17 playoff games this spring -- he was a healthy scratch in the first four games of the opening round against New Jersey.
"Ville has gotten his best opportunity here in the playoffs," coach Peter Laviolette said. "We lost (Simon) Gagne and we lost (Jeff) Carter for a bit. We needed others to step up and we moved Danny Briere back to the middle.
"Ville Leino got an opportunity to come into the lineup, and he's been terrific. He makes plays, scores big goals and he's having a lot of fun doing it. So this is the best opportunity that he's gotten -- maybe ever in his NHL career, with the Wings and certainly with us in the regular season. The opportunity wasn't as great as it is right now and he's seizing the moment."
Leino's point total happens to be the highest for a rookie in a playoff season since Jeremy Roenick had 18 for the Blackhawks in 1990.
So now that he's established a franchise rookie record, does he still feel any older?
"He (Versteeg) was standing right there, in front of the net. So I figured maybe I can shoot straight in. I missed the shot a little bit there, hit him on the back and it was a lucky goal." -- Ville Leino on his game-winning goal

"No, but guys are giving me a hard time in the locker room for that," he said. "I'm 26 now. I play the Final last year and the playoffs last year. I don't really feel like a rookie. I guess rules are rules."
Briere, who assisted on Leino's record-setting tally, is happy to be centering a line with the first-year Flyer forward, who was acquired on Feb. 6 in a trade with Detroit in exchange for Ole-Kristian Tollefsen.
"It's a pretty cool achievement," Briere said. "Even halfway through the year, I don't think half the team knew he was a rookie, so he's been playing great and I feel very fortunate to be riding the wave with him on our line (with Scott Hartnell)."
Veteran defenseman Chris Pronger refuses to think of Leino as a rookie.
"He's a guy the puck seems to follow around," Pronger said. "He's very shifty and elusive when he's got the puck."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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