NEW YORK _ A sizzling Michael Leigthon notched his first shutout in six years Wednesday, continuing his strong pitch to start Friday's Winter Classic in Boston.
He deserves it.
Leighton was forced to make just 22 saves, but he stood tall when needed as the Flyers routed the host New York Rangers, 6-0, and captured their fourth straight victory _ all on the road.
Simon Gagne's third hat trick of his career sparked the Flyers, who moved from 13th to a tie for No. 8 in the Eastern Conference.
Leighton is on a certfied roll. In the last four games, he is 4-0 with a 1.48 goals-against average and .952 save percentage. If he continues to post those numbers, Ray Emery can take as long as he wants before returning from abdominal surgery.
"The shutout was just a bonus, but we played a great game tonight and that's what counts," said Leighton, who was claimed off re-entry waivers from Carolina on Dec. 15. "I definitely feel more comfortable with the more games I play. I haven't gotten this opportunity in the NHL in a long time."
After Wednesday's game, coach Peter Laviolette would not commit to his goalie against Boston at Fenway Park Friday.
But it would be shocking if he went with Brian Boucher, who is recovering from a lacerated right ring finger.
Nothing against Boucher _ a New England native who would love to start at Fenway _ but Leighton is in a zone and Laviolette should stay with the hot hand.
"I don't know if I'm playing (Friday), but it's definitely going to be exciting being out there in that atmosphere," Leighton said. "It'll be quite an experience. I have the Winter Classic symbol painted on my mask just to show it is a big deal."
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WINTER CLASSIC UPDATE: The Boston weather forecasters have changed their predictions for Friday. (Shocking, eh?) For most of the week, they were calling for rain on Friday, then yesterday they changed it to a rain-snow mix.
Now they're saying there's a 70 percent chance of morning snow before the Flyers meet the Bruins at 1 p.m.
I'm on a train in New York _ it's 9:40 a.m. on Thursday _ heading to Boston. It's snowing in NYC and apparently it's headed to Beantown. That would make it a perfect setting for the Winter Classic.
The Flyers will practice at Fenway at 2 p.m. Thursday.
If it snows Friday, the game will be played, officials say _ unless it's a downright blizzard. Rain, however, could cause a postponement to Saturday.
Philly fans are invading Boston today _ and the West End (Little Italy) will be hoisting a glass or two of lemoncello tonight.
The Flyers were alotted 5,000 tickets for season-ticket holders and they were all gobbled up. Quickly. Some Philly fans purchased tickets from other outlets, so it wouldn't be surprising if 8,000 to 10,000 Flyers jerseys were among the 40,000 spectators at Fenway Friday.
Ike Richman, a Wachovia Center executive, arrived in Boston Wednesday.