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Leighton still perfect after back-to-back shutouts

by Mike G. Morreale /
PHILADELPHIA -- Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen wanted it to be known that there was one good player on the ice Tuesday night in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Montreal Canadiens.

That player was goalie Michael Leighton, who became the first goalie to post consecutive shutouts in one playoff year since Detroit's Chris Osgood did it against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Games 1 and 2 of the 2008 Stanley Cup Final.

"Today we had one good player out there, and we all know it was Mike," Timonen said after Philadelphia's 3-0 victory gave the Flyers a 2-0 lead in the series. "The rest of us were average."

Leighton is still unbeaten in the playoffs at 4-0 and owns a 0.87 goals-against average and .969 save percentage to go along with his back-to-back shutouts. Don't forget, he also combined on a shutout with Brian Boucher in Game 5 of their second-round series.

It's pretty amazing to think the first time Leighton suited up following his recovery from a high ankle sprain was as a backup to Brian Boucher in Game 5 against the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. He was immediately thrust into the spotlight when Boucher went down with a knee injury in the early stages of the second period and has been absolutely flawless ever since.

He's gone a remarkable 165:50 or eight-plus periods of hockey without allowing a goal, dating back to 14:10 of the first period of Game 7 at TD Garden, when Boston's Milan Lucic scored for a 3-0 lead.

"To be honest, I wasn't even sure if he was ready to go until the day before (Game 5 against Boston)," forward Blair Betts said. "It's kind of ironic that the only game they finally decide to dress him, Brian goes down with the knee injury and, since then, he's been phenomenal for us.

"He's loose and relaxed and you could almost feel a confidence and strong mentality about him (before every game)," Betts continued. "He doesn't seem to nervous. Coming in against Boston in Game 5 … that's got to be the toughest position for any player to enter. He came into an elimination game in the playoffs, and after he hadn't played in two months, comes out and shuts the door."

Leighton, who made 28 saves in Game 1 and turned aside 30 more in Game 2 to stymie the Canadiens, also became the first Flyer with consecutive shutouts in one playoff year since Bernie Parent did it against the Toronto Maple Leafs on April 15 and 17, 1975, during the quarterfinals.

It's a mark he never could have imagined.

"It's obviously an honor, but a shutout to me, it means a little bit," Leighton said. "The win means a lot more to me. You know, we could have won 3-1 and I would have been just as happy. We're just looking at the next game now and rolling forward."

Leighton has stopped all 70 shots he's faced after allowing the goal to Lucic four days ago. Since that goal, the Flyers have outscored the opposition 13-0 -- including 9-0 in the two wins against the Canadiens.

"When (your goalie) throws two games together like that, it catches everybody," coach Peter Laviolette said. "You need good performances from your entire team in order to keep moving on in the playoffs. To me, he looked as good as I've seen him. He was very calm in there, very relaxed, and in complete control of that net and everything that went on around it. He was really strong."

In the end, even the Montreal players and coach Jacques Martin had no other choice than to credit Leighton.

"He's stopped everything so far," said Habs forward Mike Cammalleri, who scored 12 times in the first two rounds. "He's been great. I don't know whether it's a surprise or not. I'm kind of the belief you could always do a little more to put the puck in the net. But whenever a goalie has back-to-back shutouts, he's doing something right."

Martin, whose team had the territorial advantage in the opening two periods and outshot the Flyers 30-23 in Game 2, felt Leighton was the difference.

"I shouldn't say I'm surprised," Martin said. "I think he's a good goalie. I think he had a good season for their team, so I'm surprised that we haven't scored. I think that we have to do a better job in certain areas. But I thought that we competed hard tonight, and it was a good game. The difference was the special teams."

Leighton, as you might expect, was also the Flyers' best penalty-killer. He turned aside all nine shots the Canadiens threw at him during their four power-plays in the game. 

"Sometimes it's good to not face shots, but sometimes it's good to get into it a little bit," Leighton said. "So it kind of just depends on the mood you're in and how you're feeling.

"They were on us right off the bat, and I felt good," he continued. "We did a good job clearing on our early rebounds, and our penalty kill was good. Some nights you almost want to not get tested early and just get perimeter shots to see the puck, but that's kind of just how you feel and how the day's going."

Leighton certainly must have been feeling pretty good on Tuesday -- making it one day he'll never forget.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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