HE GETS HIS own table now, Michael Leighton does, gets to enter the interview room alone, a question turned exclamation. Thirty shots, all stopped, 16 in a first period from which the Flyers, once again, had no business emerging with a lead.
"We didn't play our best game," Danny Briere was saying after the Flyers beat the Montreal Canadiens, 3-0, last night in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals. "We know it."
Briere said this before Leighton entered the room, taking his turn answering questions alongside Mike Richards and Ville Leino before yielding to Leighton. Someone asked Leighton if he felt as if he'd "finally arrived now that you get a table all by yourself?" Leighton laughed along with everybody else, then pointed out that he took an end seat, anticipating the arrival of Chris Pronger.
This is the part Leighton is still uncomfortable with. On the ice? He sticked aside a shot after Braydon Coburn gave the puck away early in the first period. He knifed away three consecutive shots during a scrum later on. He covered the puck when he should have, even quarterbacked the effort at times.
"To me, tonight, he looked as good as I've seen him," said Flyers coach Peter Laviolette, who has been around him more than any other NHL coach. "He was very calm in there, very relaxed, and in complete control of that net and everything that went on around it. He was really strong."
Leighton's shutout streak is now a ridiculous 165 minutes and 50 seconds, since that third first-period goal by Boston on Friday. He played huge the rest of the way that night, then kept the Flyers afloat in Game 1 of this series while they got their legs. Last night, he kept them afloat for most of the game, stopped Montreal captain Mike Cammalleri alone in front in the second period, punctuated the night by snaring P.K. Subban's booming, third-period slapper with a Bernie Parent-like snare of his glove.
"Sometimes you need your goalie to steal one for you," Briere said. "We've been on the other end of the spectrum a few times."
Spectrum? Did someone say Spectrum? Thirty-five years have passed since a Flyers goalie has done what Michael Leighton now has done, stoning a team in consecutive playoff games. But when Parent did it to the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1975, he was already a legend, had ridden on one parade float and was on his way to another. He was and remains so deliciously flaky that any comparison to the cerebral and stoic Leighton . . . well, there is no comparison.
Leighton, who turns 29 today, is a man still in search of a home, a team, an identity really. Maybe he has earned all of that already here, after this ridiculous run, but in the fickle world of hockey, who knows?
It's a sport, Blair Betts was saying last night, in which "a lot of guys in the American Hockey League who have the capabilities to play in the NHL just don't have the opportunities." When they get them, as Leighton has, it's sometimes as a backup, sometimes a no-win. When Detroit coach Mike Babcock sent Leino to the minors last year, he said he was the best player he had ever sent down.
Maybe that explains why the Leightons happen in this sport more than any other, why Leino has 11 points in these playoffs after another two-point night, why little kids are painting mustaches under their little noses to try to look more like Dan Carcillo.
"Maybe it's more of a team sport than any other," Briere was saying. "In the sense that even your guys on the third and the fourth line have such big roles. You look at other sports, the last few players don't have as much of a big role as players in the NHL.
"You look at guys like Blair Betts and Ian Laperriere. All year they're always among the forwards with the least amount of ice time. But you look at what they bring to the team and you realize it would be tough to be successful without them. That's why there's different heroes. When you get to the playoffs and different guys seem to be stepping up. All over the years. Not just this year. Every year there seems to be different guys who are stepping up and unknown.
"I think it's pretty cool."
So do you. And you. And me. The Michael Leighton story is playing big everywhere but around Montreal right now, playing big in Canada because Leighton's story is the consummate hockey story. You take your hits and you take them again and you hang in there until they order you to go away.
The other day, noting all the places he had been, Leighton quipped that people tell him, "Everybody wants you." Moments later though, he said more somberly, "I'd like some stability. I'd like to stay with one team.
"I'd love to stay here."
Stay calm, stay square, stay in front of the puck, Michael.
Do all that for six more wins, and we won't let you leave.
And we won't ever let you buy a drink or dinner again either.
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