MONTREAL (AP) — The NHL’s goalie of the moment, and maybe the player most responsible for the Philadelphia Flyers ‘ unexpected run toward a Stanley Cup, arrived in Montreal with one simple wish for his 29th birthday.
“Just some rest,” Michael Leighton said Wednesday with a big laugh.
OK, but not much.
As busy as Leighton has been in registering consecutive shutouts by stopping all 58 shots Montreal has fired at him in the first two games of the Eastern Conference final, the Canadiens are vowing to make it even tougher on him.
A day after a 3-0 loss at Philadelphia, Canadiens coach Jacques Martin spent much of a 45-minute meeting attempting to erase 120 minutes of futility by stressing to his players the importance of getting more traffic in front of Leighton as the best-of-seven series shifts to Montreal for Game 3 on Thursday.
Defenseman Josh Gorges is buying in because at this point, scoring a goal — just one — has become the Canadiens’ primary objective, no matter how it comes.
“Even if it’s one of those ugly ones, off someone’s behind or deflecting in off of one of their guys, we’ll take it,” Gorges said. “First of all, I think that would give us a boost, a little confidence to know that he’s not invincible.”
The Canadiens have been resilient this postseason. Seeded eighth, they’ve already rallied from series deficits to knock off both top-seeded Washington and defending champion Pittsburgh in seven games each.
The seventh-seeded Flyers pulled off maybe the greatest comeback in NHL history just to get here, coming from three games down against Boston and three goals down in Game 7 to beat the Bruins. And they’re doing it with a journeyman goalie.
Claimed by the Flyers off of waivers in December, Leighton has grabbed the spotlight since taking over the starting job after Brian Boucher hurt his knee in Game 5 against Boston.
Leighton has now won four straight, and has been invincible this series.
Leighton became the first goalie to register two consecutive shutouts in the NHL playoffs since Detroit’s Chris Osgood did it against Pittsburgh in the 2008 Stanley Cup final. His shutout streak of 165:50 is second among Flyers goalies, behind only Boucher, who went 184:45 without allowing a goal in the 2000 playoffs.
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette initially balked at answering a question about who the star of his team might be, saying “we’re not a one-guy team.”
Laviolette then made an exception regarding Leighton’s performance on Monday. It was a game in which the Flyers led 1-0 after 20 minutes despite being outshot 16-6
“Michael Leighton gave it to us last night and kept us in that game,” Laviolette said. “So there’s your answer.”
With a shutout on Thursday, Leighton would become only the seventh player to do it in three straight games, and first since Anaheim’s Jean-Sebastien Giguere’s triple-blanking in the 2003 Western Conference finals against Minnesota.
“Well, obviously, I’m trying to enjoy it. But I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself,” Leighton said. “I haven’t really accomplished too much yet.”
The Flyers are 16-0 in their history when leading a series 2-0, and are now two wins from their first trip to the Stanley Cup final since 1997. They’ve also won six straight and are 5-1 on the road.
Given how topsy-turvy the East playoffs have been, the Flyers aren’t taking anything for granted.
“That would be the worst mistake we can make,” center Danny Briere said. “This is far from over. … I’m hoping we’re not going to fall into that trap.”
The Canadiens, meanwhile, are looking forward to playing their first game at home in 10 days.
The trouble for Montreal is its offense has been far too one-dimensional, even before it hit the Leighton Wall. Of the 39 goals Montreal has scored this postseason, 19 have come from two players: Mike Cammalleri has 12 and Brian Gionta seven.
Center Tomas Plekanec, who had a team-leading 70 points in the regular season, has managed just four assists in his past 10 games. Play-making forward Scott Gomez has a goal and 10 assists this postseason, but hasn’t scored a goal in his past 15.
Martin was confident in his team.
“We’ve earned the right to be here. We know it’s not going to be easy,” Martin said, before noting how the Canadiens rallied from a 3-1 series deficit against Washington. “A lot of people here, after Game 4 against Washington, weren’t too optimistic. And this group proved them wrong.”