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.”

Glass smacking fan in Colorado accidentally shatters penalty box glass

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The NHL certainly had its share of weird moments on Tuesday night.

In St. Louis, we had the Blues have a goal disallowed because the puck bounced in the net off of referee Tim Peel.

In Colorado, the glass next to the Edmonton Oilers’ penalty box suddenly shattered following a third period fight involving Matt Calvert and Matt Benning.

It’s hard to see what exactly happened, but a fan next to the penalty box appeared to smack the glass only to have it complete shatter into thousands of pieces. It didn’t seem to be a very hard smack so it is entirely likely it was a defective piece of glass that was probably already broken.

But it was still a bizarre scene that briefly delayed the game.

Here is the fight that started the entire sequence.

The Oilers ended up winning the game thanks to three-point nights from Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Leon Draisaitl, and another strong performance in goal from goalie Mikko Koskinen.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

‘Embarrassing’ first period pushes Blackhawks’ losing streak to eight

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Slow starts have been the calling card for the Chicago Blackhawks this season.

They entered play on Tuesday night in Winnipeg having given up at least the first two goals in eight of their previous 10 games, and it of course happened again in an ugly 6-3 loss to the Jets.

And this slow start seemed to be even worse than all of the previous slow starts.

The Blackhawks not only surrendered three goals in the first period (and a fourth goal just one minute into the second period), they were at one point getting outshot by a 14-0 margin before recording their first shot on goal of the game.

“We didn’t have a shot for like the first what, 15, 16 minutes, maybe even more,” said Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane after the game. “So pretty embarrassing start.”

[Related: Blackhawks hit bottom in this week’s PHT Power Rankings]

“If I had a fix I would have fixed it already,” coach Jeremy Colliton said regarding the starts.

“Compete harder early on. I thought we were late to almost every situation in the first period and they have a really good team. They pressure hard and they make a lot of plays. They play like men out there and we just couldn’t match it in the beginning and we paid a price for it.”

With all of those bad starts the Blackhawks have now lost eight games in a row, 10 out of their past 11, and 19 out of their past 22.

This is already their second eight-game losing streak of the season, and as pointed out by The Athletic’s Mark Lazerus, this is their third eight-game losing streak in their past 63 games.

They are also just 3-12-2 since Colliton replaced Joel Quenneville behind the bench. They were 6-6-3 under Quenneville.

Just about the only positive for the Blackhawks right now is the fact that Dylan Strome continued his strong play since arriving in Chicago via trade with the Arizona Coyotes. He scored his seventh goal of the season in Tuesday’s loss and now has four goals and five total points in his first eight games with the Blackhawks. He only had six points in 20 games with the Coyotes before the trade.

Other than that, though, there is nothing going right for this Blackhawks team.

(PHT’s Scott Billeck contributed to this post)

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Alex Ovechkin isn’t slowing down

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At 33 years old Alex Ovechkin is not supposed to be scoring goals at this sort of pace.

He is not supposed to be scoring goals the way he was when he was in his mid-20s.

The typical aging curve for NHL players, even the elites, says they are supposed to be slowing down at this point in their career and seeing their numbers slide south in a downward trend.

But as Ovechkin has shown throughout his brilliant career, he is not typical.

He is also not slowing down.

With three more goals on Tuesday night in the Capitals’ 6-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings, the game’s greatest goal-scorer added to his league leading total and now sits atop the NHL with 25 goals through his team’s first 30 games.

He also extending his current point streak to 12 consecutive games.

[Related: Capitals among NHL elites in this week’s PHT Power Rankings]

These numbers are impressive, even for Ovechkin. Especially when you consider he has never at any point in his career scored more goals through his team’s first 30 games (22 was his previous high at this point) and is currently on a 68-goal pace for the season.

These numbers are downright comical because they are completely unheard for a player this age. They are bordering on absurd.

Since 1987 no player in the NHL at age 33 or older has ever scored this many goals through 30 games (no one had more than 22).

In the history of the league only 13 different players have recorded a 50-goal season over the age of 30, while only three (Jaromir Jagr, Bobby Hull, and John Buyck) have recorded one at age 33 or older.

Ovechkin is now literally halfway there with still 52 games to play this season.

It would not be unfair to say he has had some puck luck on his side so far, and that was especially true on Tuesday night where two of his goals came off of fluky bounces. He also has a 21.5 percent shooting percentage that is seven points higher than his previous career best (14.6 in 2007-08, when he scored 65 goals) and nine points higher than his career average. That sort of pace is unsustainable in the modern NHL, even for somebody as great as Ovechkin.

But even if he shot at his normal career average (12.6 percent) over the rest of the season that would still be another 25 goals based on his current shot output. That would put him at exactly 50 goals for the season, and what very well might be an eighth goal-scoring crown.

It is expecting a lot given that no one has ever really done anything like this at this age, but would you want to bet against him?

The defending champs have now won 11 of their past 14 games and extended their lead in the Metropolitan Division with Tuesday’s win.

(H/T to Hockey-Reference database for historical goal data in this post)

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Blues goal disallowed on season’s weirdest play

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The St. Louis Blues are, in their own words, a fragile team at the moment and can not catch a break.

Even when it seems like they may have been able to catch one.

In the first period of Tuesday’s game against the Florida Panthers, defender Robert Bortuzzo innocently dumped the puck into the offensive zone from just outside the blue line, where it bounced off of referee Tim Peel’s midsection and ended up in the back of the net behind Roberto Luongo.

It was bizarre. It was flukey. It was strange. It was also illegal.

From the NHL’s situation room:

At 5:17 of the first period in the Panthers/Blues game, Robert Bortuzzo’s shot deflected off an official and into the Florida net. Rule 78.5 states that apparent goals shall be disallowed “when the puck has deflected directly into the net off an official.” No goal St. Louis.

Peel was shaken up as a result of the play and had to leave the ice.

Fortunately for the Blues they were able to score four goals in the third period that did count to pick up a much-needed 4-3 win over the Panthers.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.