MONTREAL (AP) — Michael Leighton doesn’t have time to reflect on his latest shutout. He is focused on a much bigger objective now that the Philadelphia Flyers are one win from the Stanley Cup finals.
Much like his team, Leighton bounced back from his worst performance this postseason. He stopped all 17 shots he faced in a 3-0 win over the Montreal Canadiens in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals on Saturday.
For Leighton, the journeyman who was claimed by the Flyers on waivers in December, it was his third shutout in this series. He is 5-1 since taking over after Brian Boucher was hurt in the second round.
The Flyers, who have won seven of eight since falling behind Boston 3-0 in the previous round, lead the Canadiens 3-1 and can advance to the finals for the first time since 1997 with a win at home in Game 5 on Monday.
“I’m not really concerned about shutouts right now, I’m concerned about winning,” Leighton said. “That’s not really on my mind. If we would’ve won 5-1, I would have been just as happy.”
The smiles were back on the Flyers’ faces as they bounced back from a 5-1 loss in Montreal on Thursday. They delivered on a vow to channel their frustrations and disappointment into one of their most dominant defensive outings of the playoffs.
“I can tell you that we didn’t play a very good game last game, and it was a kick in the teeth,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “Our guys responded with a better effort.”
Laviolette’s understated response didn’t reflect how dominating the Flyers were, particularly in the second period when they outshot the Canadiens 13-1. Philadelphia grabbed the lead when Claude Giroux and Ville Leino scored on breakaway goals nine minutes apart. Giroux then sealed the win with an empty-netter.
“We’ve been a team that’s been able to recover from tough defeats like that all season long,” defenseman Chris Pronger said. “A quick look in the mirror and understand what you need to do, and we were all able to rally together and play well as a team.”
Now the question is whether the eighth-seeded Canadiens can engineer another comeback from a 3-1 series deficit to get to the finals for the first time since 1993. Montreal dug out of such a hole in the first round and knocked out Presidents’ Trophy-winning Washington.
“Confident? I mean, it’s a familiar feeling for us,” leading scorer Michael Cammalleri said. “We seem to play our best hockey in this situation. Here we go again.”
They’ll have to play much better because the Flyers beat them in most puck battles and flustered Montreal. That prevented the Canadiens from generating many rushes through the neutral zone.
“We just didn’t execute. We got impatient and got away from doing that,” forward Brian Gionta said. “I think the second period is where we got away from our game. We tried pressing a little too hard and that’s when you get away from your game plan.”
The second period proved to be the difference.
Giroux opened the scoring 5:41 into it by streaking past defender Josh Gorges at the left circle, driving to the net, and lifting a shot to beat goalie Jaroslav Halak on the short side. Gorges was caught flat-footed and slowed because he was having trouble with his skate. A piece of equipment hung off it.
Leino made it 2-0 by sneaking in behind the Canadiens’ defense on the transition. Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger broke up a play at his blue line and hit Leino on the fly up the left wing, while Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban was caught up ice. Leino cruised in, faked going wide, and then slipped the puck just inside the near post.
The Canadiens mustered nothing. Their only shot came 13:34 into the frame on Maxim Lapierre’s snap shot from the left boards, which Leighton blocked.
The Canadiens’ one shot in the second period matched a playoff franchise low done twice before, most recently in a 5-2 win over Boston in April 1994. The Pittsburgh Penguins were the last team to do it, during their Game 7 win over Detroit in last year’s Stanley Cup finals, according to STATS LLC.
“I thought we had to be better as far as our execution,” Cammalleri said. “I don’t know exactly what the reason is for it but our execution wasn’t there in the second period.”
Leighton had a relatively easy day after allowing five goals on 38 shots on Thursday. He opened the series by stopping 58 shots in 6-0 and 3-0 wins at Philadelphia. He became the 13th NHL goalie to have three shutouts in one series, and the first since Toronto’s Ed Belfour and Tampa Bay’s Nikolai Khabibulin did it in the first round of the 2004 postseason.
Leighton’s best string of saves came during a scramble with 2:25 left. After stopping Marc-Andre Bergeron’s hard shot from the right circle, Leighton kicked out his left pad to foil Lapierre, who had two chances to stuff in the rebound. Travis Moen also got off a shot, but a sprawling Leighton somehow prevented the puck from crossing the line.
“For quite some time now this team has always answered a challenge, and they’ve always answered a bell,” Laviolette said. “But, again, before we leave this rink we need to dismiss it, get rid of it, and start focusing and getting ready because there’s just too much at stake.”
NOTES: The Flyers welcomed back injured forwards Jeff Carter, who missed 11 games because of a broken foot, and Ian Laperriere, who sat out 10 games due to a concussion and brain injury. … The Canadiens played their 100th game of the season for the fourth time in team history. The franchise record is 104 set in 1992-93. … Canadiens C Tomas Plekanec has no goals and four assists in 12 games after leading the team with 70 points in the regular season.