CHICAGO - Whatever Peter Laviolette tried to achieve by guarding the identity of his Game 2 goalie Sunday afternoon, the reality was obvious to anyone paying attention.

It had to be Michael Leighton. Period.

That doesn't mean the Flyers can't win the Stanley Cup without Leighton, who was rightly taken out of Game 1. And it doesn't mean we won't see Brian Boucher again before the Finals are over.

All it means is that Leighton is the choice that makes the most sense right now. Going with Boucher would be an overreaction, if not an act of outright panic. Still, this is the first time Laviolette really had a choice - only one of the two goalies has been healthy at a time - and it was odd that he announced it hours after making a big deal of not announcing it.

Leighton has to be better, to be sure. But the team in front of him was awful defensively.

"Passes from behind the net to a guy right in front, I don't think Marty Brodeur in net is going to stop them," Flyers forward Scott Hartnell said.

"I don't think any of those goals were particularly his fault," defenseman Matt Carle said. "It seemed like a basketball game. Whoever has the last shot is going to win. It was kind of a sloppy game. They have the tools to play that kind of game. It doesn't fit our style."

The last time the Flyers played this poorly on defense was Game 3 in Montreal. After shutting out the Canadiens twice in Philadelphia, they got crushed, 5-1, at the Bell Centre. As in Game 1 here, Leighton was helpless in the face of so many choice scoring opportunities.

Two nights later, Leighton shut out the Canadiens again, 3-0, to give the Flyers full control of that series. After their worst overall effort of the postseason, the Flyers came right back and delivered one of their best. And they did it with Leighton in net.

That's the kind of recent and relevant experience this team can draw from now. And they weren't nearly as bad here as they were in Montreal that day. The Flyers were effective at the offensive end against the Blackhawks. It was the back end that fell apart.

"We played a decent game," Chris Pronger said. "We just didn't play our game."

Pulling the goalie, captain Mike Richards said, sent the message "that we're leaving this guy out to dry. You're trying to rally everyone around a guy who's played his heart out for us, who's been battling for us every game since he's been back."

So it makes sense to give the team a chance to rally around Leighton again, as it did in Montreal. That is reason enough to stick with Leighton here. The other is more tangible.

Boucher has returned early from sprains to both knees in order to dress in the Finals. He played solidly in relief, although he wasn't in great position on the lone goal he did allow -- which proved to be the game-winner. After practice Sunday, Boucher said his knees felt "great," which is hockey-speak for "No way I'm offering information or excuses now."

In a strict hockey sense, it almost doesn't matter which goalie plays. All season, the Flyers have been forced by injuries to rely on Leighton in relief of Boucher in relief of Ray Emery.

"We feel comfortable playing in front of whoever," Richards said.

The point is they have to play a lot more like themselves. Whether it was the natural lure of playing an open skating game or Finals nerves or some combination, the Flyers weren't nearly disciplined enough. Laviolette's system calls for aggressive play, for initiating the attack but in a controlled way.

"A couple times, we had four guys in front of our net, and they had one guy come in and get a clear shot," Leighton said. "That's not our game. We know we're better defensively, and we're definitely going to show up next game."

"Whether guys were nervous or just had mental breakdowns, it happens," Pronger said. "I think we got off track and started to play their game, a little more run and gun and [played] into their hand a little bit. The mistakes that were made can be easily corrected."

The Flyers' attitude seems just right. They wasted a chance to steal Game 1, but they've faced tougher situations in these playoffs. They have already shown they can bounce back from a hard loss with a strong effort. That calm assurance is needed now, and that means staying with Leighton.

These Flyers need all the stability in goal they can get.

"There's been question marks since Bernie [Parent]," Boucher said. "He's the last guy to win. I'm sure until there's a winner, there will always be questions."

Maybe. But for now, the answer is Leighton.

Contact columnist Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844 or psheridan@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan.