Leighton shakes off rust as Flyers top Kings

Flyers' Danny Briere watches Kings goalie Jonathan Bernier stop the puck.
Flyers' Danny Briere watches Kings goalie Jonathan Bernier stop the puck.
Posted: December 31, 2010

LOS ANGELES - Michael Leighton killed 204 days and 36 games waiting to atone for his sin in last year's Stanley Cup final on June 9, when Patrick Kane's overtime Cup clincher silenced the Wells Fargo Center and the Flyers' dream season.

Last night, in his first start since, Leighton picked up right where he left off - with a brutal, inexplicable goal through his legs from a side angle.

Fortunately for Leighton, Stanley Cups aren't awarded in December. And there are no sudden-death goals in the first 3 minutes of hockey games.

On the back of a four-point night from captain Mike Richards, the Flyers dug themselves out of one-goal deficits twice and Leighton settled down to best the Los Angeles Kings, 7-4, at Staples Center.

"I'm happy to get in and get a win," Leighton said. "I'm not happy with the way that I played, but I am happy with a win."

It was the first four-point game since March 2 for Richards, who had two goals and two assists. He fell just short of his third career hat trick and second career five-point night.

Claude Giroux also chipped in with a career-high three assists.

More important, the Flyers' first win since Dec. 18 snapped a two-game losing streak and gave them their first win on a season-long five-game road swing.

The Flyers can pull even with Pittsburgh for the Eastern Conference lead tonight in Anaheim on New Year's Eve and the eve of the Penguins' clash with Washington in the Winter Classic at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field.

The real difference for the Flyers was on the power play, which entered the game in the bottom half of the league on the heels of a 7-for-70 stretch in the last 18 games. It struck twice for the first time since Nov. 13 against Florida.

No goal was bigger than Jeff Carter's power-play tally with a two-man advantage in the second period that swung the momentum back in the Flyers' favor and restored a two-goal lead after Jack Johnson scored on a short-side slap shot to cut the Flyers' lead to 4-3.

Peter Laviolette signaled for a timeout with the Flyers cradling the two-man advantage to get Danny Briere back on the ice after missing two shifts with an injury.

It paid off. Carter scored with 9 seconds to spare.

James van Riemsdyk added an unassisted power-play goal a little more than 3 minutes later to give the Flyers a commanding 6-3 lead. At that point, Kings coach Terry Murray yanked goalie Jonathan Bernier.

Along the way, the Flyers received some good fortune from the NHL's replay officials in Toronto, as they allowed Scott Hartnell's goal 4 minutes into the second period that gave the Flyers their first lead of the game.

Before that, it looked like Leighton might have been the goaltender most likely to be pulled from the game. Former Flyer Justin Williams blew a shot through Leighton's five-hole to give the Kings a 2-1 lead.

The two teams, regarded by many to be among the top handful in the league, traded barbs throughout the period. It was the third straight game the Flyers allowed first-period goals, being outscored by Vancouver, Florida and Los Angeles, 5-2, in the first period.

The Kings were 17-3-0 this season when scoring the first goal.

As the game wore on, Leighton seemed to settle down. Leighton, who doesn't speak to the media on game days, had acknowledged that he is still not 100 percent while experiencing foot numbness stemming from the nerve in his surgically repaired herniated disk earlier this season.

Leighton might never be 100 percent this season. But he has learned to play around it.

Last night, he held the Kings, the NHL's fourth-best team at even-strength, at bay in the third period and preserved the Flyers' lead. He even stopped Jarret Stoll on a post-to-post save during a third-period power play. The Kings controlled much of the play in the Flyers' zone as time passed in the third.

Since he entered the contest with a stat sheet as clean as the freshly shaved Staples Center ice, Leighton left the building with an unsightly 4.00 goals-against average. He probably could have designed a better debut.

But last night, as the Flyers rode back to their hotel in Santa Monica, Leighton left the Staples Center with a win. December or not, that's the only way he can start to atone for his original sin.

Slap shots

The Flyers are an impressive 5-1-2 in the second game of back-to-back sets this season. They won't have to travel far for tonight's game, just 33 miles south in Orange County . . . Nik Zherdev did not take a shift in the entire second period . . . Kimmo Timonen, who was a game-time decision last night, felt fine enough to play after suffering a lower-body injury on Tuesday night in Vancouver. "I'm a little sore. Obviously it's not perfect, but it's good enough to go," he said. Rookie defenseman Erik Gustafsson, who flew cross-country on Wednesday to join the Flyers from Adirondack, was a healthy scratch. *

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