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Blackhawks Beware: Flyers Michael Leighton is in Rare Company

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The Philadelphia Flyers are just three periods away from facing the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals who just finished off the San Jose Sharks.  And, the Blackhawks willmichael leighton save have their hands full against the Flyers once they take care of business against the Montreal Canadiens. 

After going down 0-3 against the Boston Bruins, the Flyers were left for dead.  Seven wins and three shutouts later, your Philadelphia Flyers are on the doorstep of playing in their first Stanley Cup Finals since 1997. 

The Blackhawks will have the displeasure of going up against the hottest goalie in the NHL - Michael Leighton, whom they drafted in the 6th round of the NHL Draft in 1999.  It's interesting how things come full circle sometimes. Michael Leighton's rags-to-riches story is the story of the NHL this year.  And, we in Philadelphia love our athletes who come out of nowhere to reach superstardom.  We are suckers for underdogs and Leighton's story is one of the greatest underdog stories in Philly sports history.  His career is an odyssey, spanning 12 years and countless AHL and NHL teams. 

Michael Leighton didn't make his NHL debut until 2002 and played parts of two seasons with the Blackhawks.  He bounced aruond the AHL and NHL for a few seasons and ended up with the Flyers during their wretched 2006 season.  Leighton has played for teams such as the Windsor Spitfires, Norfolk Admirals, Portland Pirates, Rochestor Americans, and the Albany River Rats.  In 2006-2007 alone he was bounced around like a pinball between the Nashville Predators, Philadelphia Flyers, Philadelphia Phantoms, and finally the Albany River Rats.  Leighton would finally see some stability in his career after 06-07, when he played parts of four seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes who promptly jettisoned him in the beginning of the 2009-2010 season.

You read that correctly folks.  The goalie who had three shutouts in the Conference Semi-Finals against the Montreal Canadiens was released from the Carolina Hurricanes in the beginning of this season. And, what's most remarkable is that he wasn't even their starting goalie in the entire playoffs due to suffering an injury nearly two months prior to the Boston series.  Who knows how things would have played out had Boucher not been injured in Game Five of the Boston series? If, if, if...

Now Leighton has done something no other goaltender has done in the history of the Flyers and that's record three shutouts in a single playoff series. Not even Ron Hextall, Pelle Lindbergh, or the great Bernie Parent could accomplish that feat. When he stopped all 17 shots against the Canadiens on Saturday he became just the 13th goalie in NHL history to record three shutouts in a playoff series.

Now he's the key cog in the wheel for a Flyers team that is riding a wave of momentum similar to that team called the 2008 Phillies.  Even though the Chicago Blackhawks dismantled the San Jose Sharks like a piece of mince meat, they had better beware of Leighton.  Whenever a team has the hot goaltender in the playoffs, it makes them a formidable matchup. The Blackhawks' goalie Antti Niemi is no slouch either, as he sports a 12-4 record with a 2.33 GAA and two shutouts in the playoffs.

The Blackhawks have a nasty team and are certainly a force to be reckoned with. In addition to having a very good goalie in Niemi, they have the young superstar Patrick Kane.  And, it doesn't end with Kane.  Their supporting cast includes Olympian Jonathan Toews, Kris Versteeg, and 6 foot 4 257 bruiser Dustin Byfuglien, who leads the team with 8 goals in the playoffs.

Now that the Flyers are firing on all cylinders and have Jeff Carter back they are that much scarier. Hopefully this won't be a repeat of the 1987 Stanley Cup Finals against Edmonton when Ron Hextall won the Conn Smythe Trophy (Finals MVP Award) despite losing the series. 

Photo of Michael Leighton from http://montreal.ctv.ca