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Goaltending questions already plaguing Flyers

by Shawn P. Roarke / NHL.com
CHICAGO -- After authoring one of the greatest postseason stories in NHL history throughout the past two rounds, Michael Leighton had high hopes for the final chapter in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final.

But Leighton's closing scene did not get off to an auspicious start as he allowed five goals on just 20 shots as the Flyers dropped a wild 6-5 decision Saturday night at the United Center.

Backup Brian Boucher, dressing for the first time since injuring both knees in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, allowed the only goal of the third period, a game-winner by third-line fill-in Tomas Kopecky.

"It was a crazy game tonight," Boucher said after seeing action for the first time since May 10, when he suffered MCL damage to both his knees after a goal-mouth collision in Boston.

How crazy was it?

Leighton was coming off a series in which he recorded three shutouts against the Montreal Canadiens, the first goalie in Flyers' history to accomplish that feat. Yet on this night, in what should have been a coming-out party in front of the hockey world, Leighton could stop only three of every four shots Chicago mustered.

Along the way, he coughed up three separate leads established by his teammates in an uncharacteristic offensive outburst. Despite taking these three separate one-goal leads, Philadelphia only led for 4:57 in the game.

Leighton allowed goals 68 seconds, 98 seconds and 131 seconds after each go-ahead goal the Flyers scored against an equally shaky Antti Niemi, the Chicago goalie.  

"If you score five goals, you should more than likely win a hockey game," Flyers forward Scott Hartnell said.

Afterward, Leighton did not make excuses for what many perceive as an epic meltdown on the game's biggest stage.

"They made some good plays and scored goals," he said. "These guys make big money to score goals and sometimes you have to tip the hat to them.

"Am I disappointed I got pulled? Of course, but if you look at the situation, every time they had a good opportunity, they were scoring goals. I've got to make a few of those saves; that's the bottom line."

Leighton's teammates had no intention of throwing their erstwhile savior under the bus after a Game 1 they would all like to forget.

"Nobody should be blaming Leighton for the game that he had," said forward Danny Briere, who had a goal and set up three others. "When we are giving up chances like that, not too many goalies are going to be successful."

In fact, many of the Flyers believe that Leighton was pulled for their sins. The sight of a clearly dejected Leighton making the long, lonely trek to the bench after allowing an unstoppable one-timer from Troy Brouwer with 4:42 left in the second -- a goal that put Chicago ahead 5-4 -- they believe was intended as a wake-up call delivered by coach Peter Laviolette.

"A lot of those goals weren't his fault; they were going right under the (cross) bar, one-timers from the slot," Hartnell said. "We just got to do a better job fronting pucks, getting pucks on sticks and not making our goalies make the unbelievable save all the time."

"Am I disappointed I got pulled? Of course, but if you look at the situation, every time they had a good opportunity, they were scoring goals. I've got to make a few of those saves; that's the bottom line."
-- 
Michael Leighton

Boucher did make several big saves upon entering the game, including a huge stop on a redirection by Bolland in the first minute of the third period. But at the 8:25 mark, Boucher (11 saves) had no chance when Kopecky took a cross-ice pass from Marian Hossa to change the point of attack and then patiently held the puck until Boucher committed before finally tucking it into the short side from just above the goal line below the left  circle.

"The guy made a pretty good move on that goal," Boucher said. "He had the poise not to shoot it and then deke."

The Flyers have less than 48 hours to recover their composure after losing a winnable game -- a win that would have put the Blackhawks on their heels heading into Monday's Game 2. Instead, it is the Flyers that are looking for answers in the run-up to what has become a virtual must-win.

Will Leighton be back for Game 2, asked to bounce back just like he did in Game 4 of the last series, 48 hours after allowing five goals in the only loss to Montreal in the Eastern Conference Finals?

"I don't know what they are thinking, but I definitely would like to be back in," Leighton said.

Or will Laviolette roll the dice and go back to Boucher, who entered the postseason as the starting goalie and was dominant against New Jersey in the first round?

"I'm glad I don't have to make those decisions," Hartnell said. "Leighton's been strong since we picked him up and Boucher helped us get us into the playoffs and in the first round. It doesn't matter who is between the pipes, we have to play better."


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