Michael Leighton has been a heartwarming, scene-stealing playoff story up until now. As of Tuesday night, he's a coldhearted, game-stealing playoff goaltender.
Leighton celebrates his 29th birthday Wednesday. He can also celebrate two consecutive playoff shutouts - something last accomplished by a gentleman named Bernie Parent. This one was exponentially more impressive than the first. Leighton truly was the one thing standing between the Flyers and a quick deficit.
"He was up to the task," defenseman Chris Pronger said. "That makes things a lot easier. You look a lot better when your goaltender is making saves."
So add Lights Out Leighton as a reason to believe this thing actually could happen. He is, like Brad "Lights Out" Lidge, the last line of defense for a team that just might have that championship essence.
There's no formula to calculate the improbability of all this. After falling behind, 3-0, in the first 15 minutes of Game 7 in Boston just five nights ago, the Flyers have scored 13 goals. They have allowed zero.
"A shutout to me, it means a little bit," Leighton said, "but the win means a lot more to me. You know, we could have won, 3-1, and I would have been just as happy."
Team defense is important, but there are times it's just a shooter and a goaltender, and Leighton faced several of those situations last night. He was perfect.
"Michael Leighton saved our game tonight in the first period," coach Peter Laviolette said. "We gave up way too many scoring chances. We weren't prepared physically or mentally, and we got dominated. One guy stood on his head, and we were able to chip one in on the power play."
For two playoff rounds, Michael Cammalleri was the most prolific goal scorer in the NHL. Not Sid or Ovie, not Patrick Kane or Joe Thornton. Cammalleri scored 12 goals in 14 games as the Canadiens upset Washington and Pittsburgh.
Last night, during a first-period power play, Cammalleri had three incredible chances to score. He was set up right in front of Leighton, the area from which he has done most of his damage. And Leighton stopped all three of those shots. He got Cammalleri again in the second period after a bad turnover left the Canadiens sniper all alone to Leighton's right.
"Michael was our best player on the ice tonight," Flyers center Claude Giroux said.
We're talking about a guy who has suited up for seven different NHL organizations without ever getting a real chance to be a starting goaltender. In a league that covets goalies the way the NFL values quarterbacks, that tells you something. Eventually, you're not a promising young man. You're a guy who never quite made it.
It also tells you, though, that a lot of those guys who never quite make it probably are capable of much more than they ever get an opportunity to show. Eventually, they give up or get old and get on with their lives.
Leighton was facing that kind of crossroads. He was released by Carolina back in December, thinking about signing with a professional team in Russia. He has a wife and two young children, and that was going to be hard on everyone. Then Ray Emery's injuries proved serious, and the Flyers claimed Leighton on waivers.
No one suspected it was the most important roster move of the season. When Boucher went down against Boston, disaster beckoned. Leighton held it at bay.
"Leights picked up right where Boosh left off," Pronger said.
Leighton probably isn't going to pitch a perfect game every night. As this series moves to Montreal, the Flyers can expect real desperation from a Canadiens team that has been pulling upsets all postseason long.
A 2-0 series lead hasn't meant much in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
"You look at the two teams that are here right now, both teams know that that can go away quick," Danny Briere said. "We came back. Montreal came back a couple times. So we're not going to sit back. We saw what we were able to do to Boston. So the worst thing we could do right now is sit back."
The Flyers' Ultimate Comeback against the Bruins was fed by a belief they had outplayed the Bruins in a couple of those early losses. They had real faith that if they kept playing hard, the results would catch up. And they were right.
The Canadiens have every right to feel that way after outplaying the Flyers in Game 2. But there is a difference, and the difference is Lights Out Leighton.
The Flyers knew they could score on Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask. They know they can score on Montreal's Jaroslav Halak.
So far, the Canadiens have not been able to score, not even once, on Leighton. This isn't a storybook postseason any more. It's become one for the history books.