Leighton Returns to Flyers’ Net

Flyers goaltender Michael Leighton was back in net for the first time since Game 6 of last year’s Stanley Cup finals loss, and he’ll get a chance to earn back his respect from the Philly faithful.

Ask anyone in Flyer country about Leighton, and the likely response will be something like, “That’s the guy… that soft goal… he cost us the Stanley Cup.” It’s as if the entire Stanley Cup had been decided with one shot on goal.

Now that enough time has passed, it’s time to review the history.

The Flyers didn’t even qualify for the playoffs last season until a shootout win against the Rangers in the final game of the 2009-10 regular season.

They trounced a confused Devils team in the first round. With pins in broken bones, they clawed their way back from being down 0-3 against the Bruins and became only the third team in professional sports to do it. And then, they jumped all over a Canadiens team that was exhausted from fending off the top-seeded Capitals and Penguins.

By the time they ran into the Blackhawks, they had been dog-fighting for their lives for nearly two months. The ‘Hawks, on the other hand, had plenty of rest from sweeping the Sharks.

When Game 6 started, the Flyers needed two wins to be Stanley Cup Champions, but Simon Gagne had a broken toe, Jeff Carter had two broken feet, and Ian Laperriere had a spot on his brain (no one knew about that)—this was in addition to Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, and Mike Richards being virtually burnt out.

A snapper to the short-side was a sour note to finish the season on, but it could have been worse. The Flyers were outshot in the game 41-24, Dustin Byfuglien scored for the first time in the series on the power play, and the team allowed 16 giveaways. This was a game six loss in their own building. Imagine the loss they would have suffered had they returned to Chicago for Game 7. It would have been brutal no matter who was in goal.

No one is kidding themselves about the journeyman’s talent. Leighton will never win the Vezina Trophy or be in the All-Star game. But he’s played some good games. In the Montreal series he had back-to-back shutouts. What makes them even more impressive is the Flyers were outshot in both games.

In his return to the ice last night, Leighton looked a little rusty against the Kings. He let in two goals in the first on 10 shots. In the second he allowed two more on 16. But in the third he stopped all 10 shots he faced and looked surprisingly spry doing it. He backstopped the Flyers to a 7-4 win to end their two-game losing skid. Flyers coach Peter Laviolette is a superstitious man so expect Leighton to get the nod again against Anaheim on Friday.

What does this all mean for Sergei Bobrovsky, 22-year-old Russian rookie, who has been recently struggling?

In professional sports it’s not uncommon for a team to ask a player to pack up all of their belongings and move to another city, however there is typically some type of a bond. And especially in the case of a young goaltender there should be some type of agreement for assurance.

The rookie netminder began the season like so many other imports, living out of a hotel. He was recently told to find a permanent residence nearly the Flyers practice facility in Voorhees, NJ. He found an apartment in the same building as Andreas Nodl. What makes him seem even more permanent is the team gave him permission to invite his girlfriend in Russia to move to the area and live with him.

Leighton has proven himself to the organization. As long as he remains healthy, he and Bobrovsky will remain with the team for the duration of the season.

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