Flyers sticking with Leighton

Defenseman Chris Pronger watches as the Flyers practice for a do-or-die Game 6. He said he expected Michael Leighton to bounce back strong.
Defenseman Chris Pronger watches as the Flyers practice for a do-or-die Game 6. He said he expected Michael Leighton to bounce back strong.
Posted: June 09, 2010

Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger's being depicted as a woman and wearing a skirt - both courtesy of the Chicago Tribune - created the biggest buzz around the Wachovia Center on Tuesday, but the real news was this: Goalie Michael Leighton will start Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Blackhawks on Wednesday.

Chicago leads the best-of-seven series, three games to two, and can win its first Cup since 1961 with a victory on the Flyers' home ice.

Peter Laviolette, the Flyers' coach, revealed the Leighton decision in a roundabout way.

When asked about his starter after Tuesday's practice at the Wachovia Center, Laviolette said, "Our goaltender has the best numbers in the playoffs. I didn't think I had to announce it."

Leighton leads NHL goalies with a 2.34 goals-against average in the playoffs, and he is 6-0 at home with a 1.50 goals-against average and an off-the-charts .949 save percentage.

The 29-year-old goalie will be trying to rebound from a subpar performance in Game 5, when he allowed three first-period goals - two were softies - and was pulled for Brian Boucher in the Flyers' 7-4 loss.

At the time he spoke with reporters Tuesday, Leighton did not know he was starting.

But he was hoping to get a chance to redeem himself - just like he did after a 5-1 loss to Montreal in Game 3 of the conference finals. He blanked Montreal, 3-0, in the next game.

"You never like getting pulled, and when you do, you want to get right back in there and play again," Leighton said. "You obviously get mad when you're pulled, and you want to get back out there and prove it was a fluke. That's what I want to do. I want to get back out there and get the support of the team back and help our team."

Leighton has struggled in the Finals (4.01 GAA, .864 save percentage) but has been solid at home (2-0, 2.86 GAA, .918 save percentage). Boucher, still trying to find his form after returning from knee injuries, has a 3.78 GAA and .846 save percentage in the Finals.

After a rough outing, "you work a little more because you obviously don't want it to happen again," Leighton said.

As for his dominance at the Wachovia Center, Leighton said, "I like playing in this building. I like the lighting and the fans, and we seem to play a different style of hockey at home. We just have to continue what we've been doing all year."

To a man, the Flyers are confident in Leighton.

"I don't think we're too worried about it," Pronger said. "We've seen this story before, not only on our team, but a lot of other teams during the course of the playoffs, this year and in years past."

(See Chicago's struggling goalie, Antti Niemi, who has a 3.54 GAA and .883 save percentage in the Finals.)

Pronger said Leighton is "the type of guy that can let things like that" - he was referring to his shaky first period in Game 5 - "roll off him and just go out and be focused and be prepared. I'm not too worried about him. I don't think anybody else is, either."

The Flyers allowed the Hawks to come out of their end with ease in Game 5. More physicality is needed in Game 6, winger Scott Hartnell said.

"That's been our motto from Game 1, to wear them down physically on the forecheck. . . . pinning bodies and stuff," Hartnell said. "Game 6 at home, there's going to be a lot of emotion in the crowd, in our dressing room. It's going to be a big day on the body by everyone in the dressing room."

Including the season finale against the Rangers and the 3-0 series deficit they faced against Boston in the conference semifinals, the Flyers are 5-0 in win-or-go-home games.

"It's not the first time we're going to face elimination," winger Simon Gagne said. "We've been there before, and I think that's a plus. I'm sure the guys are going to be ready to play a big game. We know what to expect in those type of situations. And we're going to be ready for the biggest game of the season."

"I don't expect anything less than us to come out flying, banging, shooting, scoring. Everything we need to be on" Wednesday, Hartnell said.

Chicago, of course, is a formidable obstacle. The Hawks know they can register their most historic win in almost a half-century.

A red carpet with the Stanley Cup's insignia was at the Wachovia Center on Tuesday. The Hawks hope to make NHL officials roll it onto the ice Wednesday before they present the most hallowed trophy in sports.

"You want to take care of business when you can," said veteran Hawks center John Madden, who is in his fourth Finals. "You don't want to leave the chance for a Game 7. We have an opportunity [Wednesday]. All I can say is we have to be focused on that opportunity and not look at having another game to go to."

Madden said the Hawks have to "treat it like it's an elimination game" for them, too.


Contact staff writer Sam Carchidi at 215-854-5181 or scarchidi@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/BroadStBull.

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