-- Philadelphia Flyers
goalie Michael Leighton
had one thing in mind as he was about to step in for an injured Brian Boucher
and make his Stanley Cup Playoffs debut with the entire season on the line.
It was pretty simple, really. All Leighton needed to do was make sure the team maintained the same level of confidence in him as they had in Boucher. In order to do that, he'd have to come up with timely stops -- something he hadn't done in an actual game setting in almost two months. It was March 16, actually, when Leighton last played in a game.
"Those first few minutes, I was pretty nervous knowing the situation, knowing that you're one mistake away from them tying it up and then it's a different ball game," Leighton said.
But there he was. The Flyers picked Leighton up on re-entry waivers from the Carolina Hurricanes
in December for this exact purpose. He'd step in and do the job after Ray Emery
was sidelined for good with tightness in his left hip in February, and now he was asked to do it again. But this time he was doing it for the first time in 22 games.
"I didn't want to allow a goal early in the game," Leighton said. "We're up, 1-0. If they score when I go in, just when I'm starting to get comfortable, it's a 1-1 game. I didn't want to lose confidence in the team. I was able to make one or two routine stops early when I went in and team played well after that."
It was quite the scene at the 4:35 mark of the second when Boucher was lying on his back after making his ninth save, suddenly in agony after having his left leg bent beneath his body while two players toppled over him. According to CSN Philly, Boucher sprained the MCL in both knees. It certainly wasn't the way Leighton would have scripted his first appearance in a playoff game, but he had no choice.
Neither did his teammates, who played flawless in front of Leighton. The sixth-year goalie would finish with 14 saves to help the Flyers notch their second shutout this postseason and the 27th in their storied playoff history.
The combined shutout by Leighton and Boucher was only the second in the history of the Stanley Cup Playoffs -- on March 22, 1955, Montreal's Jacques Plante
and Charlie Hodge
blanked Boston, 2-0.
"Guys are just doing anything they can; we played great tonight," Leighton said. "As soon as I went in, we played great defensively. We definitely held back their shots and their goal scoring, we stayed out the box, and it gave me the opportunity to get comfortable. If they came in and peppered me right away, it may have been a different outcome. So hats off to the team around me."
Leighton was actually stunned when he saw Boucher on the ice in obvious pain. He, like everyone else on the team, was thinking, "Not again."
"I actually couldn't even believe it happened," he said. "With Ray (Emery) going down earlier, and then Boosh going down earlier this season and then Ray coming back and then I get hurt and then Boosh again (on Monday)," Leighton said. "So it's definitely been a roller coaster for the goalies this year. But the team has done great job playing in front of all of us."
Leighton actually had a moment with Boucher in the locker room while he was getting treated.
"I just asked how he was doing and he said great job to me and I said great job to him," Leighton said. "It was a shared shutout. He was playing great in the first period and early in the second.
Now, the question is can Leighton take over where Boucher left off in the playoffs? Certainly no easy feat considering "Boosh" has a 6-4 mark (he was credited with the win Monday since the Flyers scored the game-winning goal while he was in net) with a 2.33 goals-against average and .915 save percentage in 10 appearances this postseason.
The way Leighton sees it, however, this team has been playing unbelievable hockey and he expects it to continue in Game 6 at the Wachovia Center on Wednesday.
"We know we can (win four straight)," Leighton said. "In my eyes, we've outplayed (Boston) most of the games. The first game we came out slow because we had a long break but we've been there every game -- it's not like they're blowing us out. We're confident as long as we come out and we're ready to play every game that we can win each game. We just have to brush (Game 5) under the rug now and head back home and focus on that game."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com