Michael Leighton’s journey to become a starting goaltender in the
Stanley Cup finals is nothing short of amazing. Since being drafted by
the Chicago Blackhawks, he’s spent time with the Buffalo Sabres, Anaheim
Ducks, Nashville Predators, Montreal Canadiens and the Carolina
Hurricanes. Many times he was claimed off waivers, as he was deemed
expendable by his team.
He was even claimed by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2007 before once
again being put on waivers. The same team that relies on him so much now
couldn’t find a place for him on the team just three years ago.
Michael Leighton may be a relatively new name to some, but at 29 he’s
just now coming into his own as a goaltender. There were good reasons
that he wasn’t able to ever stick with a team, as he never proved on the
ice he deserved to stay.
Yet when the Philadelphia Flyers were facing a goaltender crisis in
the middle of the season, they picked Leighton up and never looked back.
He hit the ice for the Flyers playing the best of his career, not
losing in regulation in his first 10 games and putting up a stellar
16-5-2 record. He led the Flyers away from the brink of destruction
midseason, gave them a chance to compete for the postseason, and then
once again and to sit back and watch after being hurt in March.
The Flyers tried to secure a goaltender at the trade deadline, but
Leighton’s play gave them faith that they needn’t sell the farm for a
goalie as they had a solid one already in net.
He finally had proven himself, had finally given his team a reason to
keep him and he was injured at the most important time of the season.
Yet Leighton would get one more chance, being called upon as soon as
he returned from injury to replace Brian Boucher, himself lost with a
knee injury. He responded by leading the Flyers out the Bruins series
and post three shutouts against the Canadiens.
So here he is, ready to take the ice in Chicago, playing against the
team that drafted him in a battle for the Stanley Cup.
“It’s unbelievable to come where I’ve come from, to be here right
now,” Leighton says of this chance.
Despite the time he’s spent bouncing around the NHL, Leighton is
still a wholly unproven goaltender. He has just 103 NHL games under his
belt and when you look at his career the number he’s put up in
Philadelphia are a bit unexpected. Yet there’s no doubting his ability
in net at this moment, as he gears up for the Stanley Cup finals.
That is, unless you’re Patrick Kane.
“Their defence is the reason he played so well,” he said. “Not taking
anything away from him, he obviously played really good and shut them
out. But there were games I was watching where Philly outshot them 13-2
in periods, 12-1 and different things like that. Hopefully we’re a
better test for him.”
Until the Sharks came around, you could say the exact same thing about
Antti Niemi. The Blackhawks also know a bit about being outshot in a
game, allowing the Sharks to unleash an incredible amount of rubber in
their direction. So while Leighton has been helped by his defense,
perhaps Kane should focus on his own.