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Leighton or Boucher? Laviolette won't say

by John McGourty
PHILADELPHIA -- Philadelphia Flyers coach Peter Laviolette wouldn't say Monday whether Michael Leighton or Brian Boucher will start in goal in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final Wednesday at the Wachovia Center, (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS).

"We don't comment on lineups," Laviolette said during a teleconference call Monday. "... unless I want to. I want you to know that."

Both goalies gave up three goals and the Chicago Blackhawks also had an empty-netter in their 7-4 victory Sunday night at Chicago's United Center to take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series. The Blackhawks can capture their first Stanley Cup since 1961 -- 49 years ago -- with a victory Wednesday.

But the resilient Flyers are 9-1 at the Wachovia Center during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This will be the sixth time this season the Flyers have faced elimination, including their shootout victory in Game 82 of the regular season against the New York Rangers that clinched seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. The Flyers trailed the Bruins 3-0 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals to win four games in a row -- rallying from a 3-0 deficit in Game 7.

"We've played a lot of games with our back against the wall," Leighton said after Sunday's game, adding he was upset about being pulled. "I expect we are going to come out a lot better and if we do that, we'll be alright. If we don't do that, we'll get the same result."

Laviolette knows the Flyers have a big task ahead. In their history, the Flyers are just 2-13 when trailing 3-2 in a series. Of the previous 20 teams that have lost Game 5 to go down 3-2 in the Stanley Cup Final, only six have rallied to win two games.

But the Flyers have two days off to regroup. Laviolette gave his players a rest of day on Monday, save for a brief mid-day meeting.

"Our guys are getting away today," Laviolette said. "We'll work tomorrow. We're meeting for lunch (today) and that's it."

Leighton injured his knee during the Game 5 pre-game warm-up and wasn't sharp in allowing three first-period goals. He was replaced, trailing 3-0, at the start of the second period by Boucher. Laviolette pulled Boucher for an extra attacker after the Flyers closed to within 6-4 at 17:24 of the third period but Chicago's Dustin Byfuglien scored an empty-net goal 31 seconds later to make it 7-4.

"I took a shot in warm-ups. It hit me in the knee, but it didn't affect me at all," Leighton said. "It's just a bruise. It happens. It didn't in any way affect the way I played. You get on the ice and you don't even think about it."

Leighton couldn't be faulted on the first goal, a deflection of Brent Seabrook's close-in shot at 12:17 that went off Chris Pronger's skate and changed direction. But he did appear a little inflexible and he was slow to cover the post on Dave Bolland's goal at 15:26 and left too big a target on his stick side on Kris Versteeg's 35-foot wrist shot. After moving to his left as Versteeg moved, Leighton couldn't come back for the shot across his body.

Laviolette returned to the subject of goalies later in the call, saying he had made up his mind but hadn't told the goalie or the team.

"I have, yes, but I haven't seen my players yet," Laviolette said, adding that is sometimes the reason he doesn't first discuss lineup changes with the media.

"A lot of times it is the reason, yes," Laviolette said. "I don't like to put things out before I talk to my team and talk to my players. I want to make sure I do it at the right time and when I want to do it. That's why I said I reserve the right to say when and where."

Leighton made 10 saves but his teammates managed only seven first-period shots while also being outhit and outhustled. Flyers captain Mike Richards defended Leighton.

"It was just us leaving a goaltender out to dry," Richards said.

Boucher, from his first-period position on the bench, agreed with Richards.

"We came out slow and gave them a lot of open looks at the net," Boucher said.

Laviolette is likely to go with Leighton because of his dominance at Wachovia Center this spring. In the two home games in the Final, he is 2-0 with a 2.86 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage -- as opposed to his 0-1 record with a 5.31 GAA and .831 save percentage at the United Center.

In six Stanley Cup Playoff games at the Wachovia Center this spring, Leighton is 6-0 with two shutouts, a 1.48 goals-against average and .949 save percentage. He went 8-1-0 in nine regular-season starts at Wachovia with a 2.30 GAA and .923 save percentage.

Despite being lifted in two Stanley Cup Final games, Leighton still has the best win percentage -- 80 percent -- of all playoff goalies, is the leader with a 2.34 goals-against average and his .918 save percentage is second only to Montreal Canadiens goalie Jaroslav Halak's .923. Leighton leads the playoffs with three shutouts.

"We've played a lot of games with our back against the wall. I expect we are going to come out a lot better and if we do that, we'll be alright. If we don't do that, we'll get the same result."
-- Michael Leighton

Leighton was 17-9-2 in 34 games with the Flyers and Carolina Hurricanes during the regular season while posting a 2.83 GAA and .905 save percentage. But he was 16-5-2 after the Flyers picked him up on waivers from Carolina in early December, with a 2.48 GAA and a .918 save percentage.

Interestingly, Boucher took the losses in both games he replaced Leighton, giving up the game-winning goal in the 6-5 Game 1 loss in Chicago and ending up as the goalie of record by giving up the fifth goal in Game 5. Leighton took the 2-1 loss in Game 2. From his comment Sunday night, it sounded like Boucher expects Leighton to start.

"I don't know if there's any issue there," he said.

Leighton said Sunday that he understands it's the coach's decision but that he wants to play.

Laviolette was asked if he thinks first of the goalie or the team when making a decision about which goalie to start.

"Both. Whatever is best for the team and whatever is going to give us the best chance to win one hockey game," Laviolette said.

Contact John McGourty at
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