It's time to dispel the notion that the Flyers can't win the Stanley Cup with Michael Leighton in the nets.
Anyone who still believes that simply hasn't been watching. The 29-year-old waiver-list pickup was not supposed to measure up to Boston's talented rookie, Tuuka Rask, when he came in during the second period of Game 5 for injured Brian Boucher in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
After all, Rask led the NHL in goals-against average and save percentage during the regular season. But Leighton is still standing, two wins from joining the great Bernie Parent as the only Flyers goalies to win the Stanley Cup after frustrating the Blackhawks, 5-3, Friday at the Wachovia Center.
In the conference final, Leighton was widely considered to be no match for Montreal's Jaroslav Halak, the goalie who sent Alex Ovechkin's Washington Capitals and Sidney Crosby's Pittsburgh Penguins home. But like Rask, Halak is also watching Leighton on television these days.
Then it was Chicago's Antti Niemi who was supposed to have the edge over Leighton. After the first two games of the Finals, that argument still carried some weight. Leighton was yanked for Boucher in Game 1, and ESPN's Barry Melrose, among others, said Flyers coach Peter Laviolette should start Boucher in Game 2.
But Laviolette stuck with Leighton. He wasn't quite as good as Niemi, who fought off a furious Flyers surge to protect a 2-1 win. But Leighton showed he was unaffected by the Game 1 benching.
As the Finals continue to unfold, though, it appears Leighton's confidence is growing while Niemi is showing some cracks.
Leighton was at his best in the first period, allowing the Flyers to build a 3-1 lead. He made two key saves on Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, who has yet to score a goal in the series. The shot by Patrick Sharp that pulled Chicago to within 2-1 late in the period dipped after it ticked off the stick shaft of Flyers defenseman Braydon Coburn. Leighton couldn't be faulted for that. But he can take credit for frustrating the Blackhawks, who continued to take ill-timed penalties.
The Blackhawks' Patrick Kane might have given his teammates the idea that Leighton was vulnerable to his glove side when he whistled a shot past the goalie's mitt in Wednesday's Game 3. But Leighton showed no weakness in Game 4.
Since the series shifted to the Flyers' venue, Laviolette has made a thinly veiled attempt to rattle Niemi. He has brought up the fact that Niemi is a rookie and how tough it must be for the Finn to bear the burden of trying to bring Chicago its first Stanley Cup in 49 years.
Technically, Niemi came into the Finals with more NHL playoff experience than Leighton, but Laviolette wasn't going to let that fact spoil his mind game. Besides, Leighton's doing a pretty good job getting under the skin of the Blackhawks himself.