2010 Stanley Cup Finals, Game 4: Michael Leighton growing more confident

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Leighton4.jpgI can forgive him the two goals in the third period. One came on a
dastardly tip-in on a 5-on-3 and the other was a fluky, bouncing goal
that careened off two players and over his pad. Until that point in the
game, and even after the Chicago Blackhawks had pulled within 4-3 late in
the third, I felt that Michael Leighton was having his best game of the
series.

There were still some iffy moments, with pucks going off the crossbar
and a couple of scary moments off the rush, but he was confident in the
net and making several big saves each time the Blackhawks threatened to
seize the momentum in the game.

He was especially good in the second period, when the Flyers sat back
a little and were outplayed by stretched by Chicago, as he made a
number of big saves to keep his team ahead by two goals. Obviously, that
lead would fall apart in the latter stages of the game but a allowing
two goals in the second period would have been much more devastating.

“I actually felt my best today, too,” Leighton said after the win. “I
was comfortable. I wasn’t nervous. I just — I had confidence in our
team that we would play well. And in the first period I felt I
made a couple of saves that really got me into the game and kept our
team in. And we scored a goal early and kind of fed off that.”

Leighton has a had a bit of a tougher series against Chicago than
when he basically rolled through the Montreal Canadiens, something that
was completely expected. The Hawks are one of the deepest offensive
teams in the NHL, and they have the ability to roll line after line
against you with neverending pressure.

The Flyers have done a tremendous job of keeping the Hawks to the
perimeter, not allowing Chicago to get any interior positioning and to
keep the shots coming from the outside. Leighton says that’s a big
reason he has been so successful this series against a team like the
Hawks.

“We knew they were going to come out and put pucks on the net,”
Leighton said when asked about Chicago’s attack. “That was kind of our
thing. Lavi said don’t let pucks get to the net. Those little wrist
shots from the point, try to step in front of the guys and knock those
down. We did a great job. They did let something get through. Without
screens it was pretty easy some of them.”

The Blackhawks have struggled with getting traffic in front of
Leighton, as Dustin Byfuglien has been completely rendered
inconsequential by Chris Pronger and company. The Hawks have tried a
number of other combinations to try and make Leighton uncomfortable in
net, but so far he’s been able to see pretty much every shot that comes
his way.

Headed back to Chicago, the Blackhawks will once again be looking to
use their matchups to their advantage and to get back to what was so
successful in Games 1 and 2. Leighton contends that it wasn’t so much
what the Hawks were doing in Game 1 that was frustrating him, but
perhaps a bit of nerves about being in the finals. Still, he says he
hasn’t changed anything as the series has progressed.

“I’m playing the same way. I know they’re a good offensive team.
They’re going to get chances. Game 1, I felt okay.

“But I wasn’t making the big saves and keeping our team into it. So
right from that game, I just said I have to make a few of those saves,
and we would have won Game 1 if I would have made two or three really
good stops. Just trying not to let in a bad goal. You play solid and
make the odd great save. Tonight it worked out.”

While there were the two goals allowed in the third period, it’s
tough to say that Leighton allowed a “bad goal”. Those goals plagued him
in Chicago, and I’m sure that Ben Eager’s game-winning goal in Game 2
is haunting him. Still, each game he’s grown more and more comfortable
and has settled down in net for the Flyers.

Michael Leighton is two games away from being perhaps the most
improbable Stanley Cup winning goaltender in recent history. He may not
be the flashiest, but he’s done a hell of a job against one of the best
offensive teams the NHL has had in a long time. But for that to
continue, the Flyers will have to do something they haven’t done yet in
this series; win in Chicago.

“We’re going back to Chicago,” Leighton said. “We have to win a
game there eventually.”

“So this is going to be the most important
game for us. Tonight was obviously a big win for us. We have to go
into Chicago and give the same effort and hopefully get the same
results.”

Looking to make the leap: Zach Aston-Reese

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This post is part of Penguins Day on PHT…

With a number of departures from a roster that won back-to-back Stanley Cups, it’s imperative that the Pittsburgh Penguins get a push from some of their prospects in 2017-18.

One of the top candidates to earn a regular spot is forward Zach Aston-Reese, a 23-year-old who just wrapped up an impressive career at Northeastern University.

Aston-Reese signed with the Pens in March, hoping to follow in the footsteps of fellow undrafted NCAA products Chris Kunitz and Conor Sheary.

In a twist, Kunitz is one of those departed players that Aston-Reese may help replace.

“He was a college free agent, too, and kind of a goal scorer his last couple years in college,” Aston-Reese said of Kunitz, per NHL.com. “Just made a career for himself playing with good guys and being able to put the puck in the back of the net.”

Aston-Reese scored 31 goals in 38 games for the Huskies last season, making him a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award.

But despite all the accolades, he knows he’s still just a prospect, with a lot left to learn, and a lot left to prove.

“Whether we start up top or down in Wilkes-Barre, I think it’s important to be in the same mindset that, you’re trying to get better every day you show up to the rink,” he said, per the Post-Gazette. “If we do get that opportunity, we need to have a good mindset, produce and do what they ask of us.”

Poll: Who will the Penguins miss the most?

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This post is part of Penguins Day on PHT…

After winning back-to-back Stanley Cups, the Pittsburgh Penguins have been forced into making some changes to their roster.

It’s only normal that championship teams won’t be able to bring all their players back, especially in a salary cap world.

This offseason, the Penguins lost Marc-Andre Fleury in the expansion draft and Chris Kunitz, Nick Bonino, Trevor Daley, Ron Hainsey, and Matt Cullen in free agency. Each one of those players played an important role in at least one of the two title runs.

Fleury may not have been between the pipes when the Penguins hoisted the Stanley Cup in each of the last two seasons, but he played a crucial part in each victory. On top of playing 38 games during the regular season, he also compiled a 9-6 record with a 2.56 goals-against-average and a .924 save percentage during the 2017 postseason.

Without Fleury on the roster, the pressure will fall squarely on Matt Murray‘s shoulders. Murray may own two rings, but he has yet to go through the challenges of an 82-game season plus playoffs. New backup Antti Niemi probably won’t be capable of filling in as well as Fleury did.

One of the major reasons the Pens were able to go on two championship runs was because of the depth they had accumulated at center. Any team would love to have one of Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, but Pittsburgh is fortunate enough to have both. The Penguins’ depth didn’t stop there. They also had Nick Bonino on their third line and Matt Cullen on their fourth, which is pretty impressive.

Both Bonino and Cullen will play in the Western Conference next year. Finding competent players to play on the third and fourth line isn’t as difficult as getting top line talent, but those two losses will probably hurt them pretty badly.

Bonino had 18 goals and 37 points during the 2016-17 regular season and he added a modest seven points in 21 games during the postseason before being ruled out with a lower-body injury. Last year, he put up less points in the regular season (29), but he had an impressive 18 points in 24 games during the playoffs. He was also capable of playing a solid two-way game.

Cullen, who signed with Minnesota yesterday, also found a way to contribute, despite playing a bottom-six role on such a deep team. The 40-year-old scored 32 and 31 points in his two years with the Penguins and he also added six and nine points during the playoff runs. He also won plenty of key faceoffs and played well without the puck.

Trevor Daley was unable to finish the 2016 playoffs because of an ankle injury, but he also played a vital role during Pittsburgh’s impressive accomplishment. Daley, who is now with the Red Wings, was able to hold down the fort while Kris Letang was out. He averaged over 20 minutes of ice time during the regular season and 19 more in the spring.

Ron Hainsey was a smart, underrated trade deadline acquisition by GM Jim Rutherford. The veteran stepped into the lineup and played 21 minutes per night for his new team. He also chipped in with eight points in 25 games. He got himself a nice contract with the Maple Leafs on July 1st.

Chris Kunitz had been a big contributor for the team, but his production fell off dramatically. After scoring 35 goals during the 2013-14 season, he added 17, 17 and nine during his last three years in Pittsburgh. It became pretty clear that he wasn’t able to play at the same level he had been in previous years, so it wasn’t surprising to see him go elsewhere (Tampa Bay) when free agency opened.

It’s your turn to vote. Make sure you make a selection in the poll below and feel free to leave your opinion in the comments section.

It’s Pittsburgh Penguins day at PHT

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The Pittsburgh Penguins became the first team since the 1997-98 and 1998-99 Detroit Red Wings to repeat as Stanley Cup champions last season.

After a summer of painful (if necessary) losses, the Penguins now aim to become the first NHL team to “three-peat” since the New York Islanders rattled off a dizzying four consecutive championships from 1980-83.

Just yesterday, Matt Cullen became the latest omission from the Penguins’ mix, but he was far from the only noteworthy loss. Marc-Andre Fleury headlines a list of exits that also includes Nick Bonino, Chris Kunitz, Trevor Daley, and Ron Hainsey.

Their additions have been a mix of small (Matt Hunwick) and polarizing (giving up a first-rounder for Ryan Reaves), so overall this team saw some minuses this summer.

That said, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that the Penguins navigated the choppy waters of the postseason despite plenty of bruises, especially with Kris Letang out for the entire 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. One could argue that a healthy Letang cancels out most of the Penguins’ losses.

(You know, not that this franchise isn’t accustomed to seeing Letang, Sidney Crosby, and Evgeni Malkin miss significant time almost every year.)

It’s been a remarkable run, as the Penguins have been on fire ever since Mike Sullivan took over. Phil Kessel‘s been a brilliant addition, even with the hot dog jokes and surprising trade rumors.

Matt Murray‘s also been a revelation, although the 2017-18 season presents an intriguing test for a goalie who has enjoyed a Ken Dryden-like start to his career. With “The Flower” out of town, more rests on Murray, a goalie who’s passed all of his tests with flying colors so far, but hasn’t ever carried a franchise netminder’s workload.

There’s a lot to like when it comes to the Penguins next season, who even with some tough losses, retain the vast majority of their key contributors. Will they run out of gas after two championship runs, not to mention some key players getting older? Can they continue to generate great results in a challenging Metropolitan Division?

PHT explores the defending champions’ burning questions today.

Draisaitl on signing with Oilers: ‘We have something really special’

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As a restricted free agent, Leon Draisaitl only had so much say regarding his future with the Edmonton Oilers, especially since teams rarely send offer sheets around in the NHL.

Even so, Draisaitl could have opted for a “bridge” deal; instead, he signed for the maximum of eight years for a whopping $68 million on Wednesday.

Some would probably grumble but understand if Draisaitl explained his rational by pointing at one of those big checks or at a calculator. Instead, the promising young forward explained that he believes that the Oilers have a bright future, and he wants to be a part of it.

In case you’re wondering, additional details have surfaced regarding the year-to-year breakdown of Draisaitl’s deal. TVA’s Renaud Lavoie also reports that Draisaitl has a no-movement clause, thus making it that much more likely that he’ll get his wish to stick with the Oilers:

Of course, with Draisaitl and Connor McDavid combining for a $21M cap hit beginning in 2018-19, the bigger question is not whether they will stay, but who the Oilers will manage to keep in the fold.

Still, that’s for GM Peter Chiarelli & Co. to decide. For Draisaitl, this is a great moment, and he might even be able to back up that big contract with big results on the ice.