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.”

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.

Kuzmenko signs 2-year extension with Canucks

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Forward Andrei Kuzmenko signed a two-year contract extension with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

The deal has an average annual value of $5.5 million.

The 26-year-old Kuzmenko has played in 47 games for the Canucks this season with 21 goals and 22 assists, four penalty minutes and a plus-4 defensive ranking.

Kuzmenko ranks second on the team in goals and power-play goals (nine) this season.

His 43 points are also tied for third on the team in overall scoring, while his 32 even-strength points (12 goals, 20 assists) are second on the Canucks.

Kuzmenko leads all Vancouver skaters in shooting rate (24.7%) and ranks third in the NHL in that category (minimum of 20 games).

He leads all first-year NHLers in almost every offensive category, including goals, assists, points, points per game (0.91), power-play goals, and power-play points.

He has also had 14 multi-point games so far this season (second most on the Canucks), highlighted by his first-career NHL hat trick and season-high four-point game against Anaheim on Nov. 3.

A native of Yakutsk, Russia, Kuzmenko spent his first eight professional seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with CSKA Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg, getting 200 points (85-115-200) in 315 regular-season games. He set career highs in goals (20), assists (33), and points (53) last season, ranking second in the league in scoring.

Kuzmenko has also represented his country on the international stage on multiple occasions, totaling 16 points (10-6-16) and six penalty minutes in 37 games played. He was originally signed by Vancouver to a one-year, entry-level contract on July 13, 2022.