When the Flyers embark on their trip to Chicago tomorrow, the players will take the usual items required for a plane ride. You know, iPods, a DVD player and maybe a Daily News or two.
Goaltender Michael Leighton is also bringing a grudge.
When it comes to memories, professional athletes are as thorough as the IRS. And they never forget a slight.
Leighton's career has had more twists than your favorite Philadelphia pretzel. He broke in with Chicago. A sixth-round pick in 1999, Leighton played 42 games over three seasons with the Blackhawks, but mostly kicked around in their minor league system until the ax fell.
The 2004 lockout was a killer and a groin injury sealed his fate quicker than an Al Capone enemy. In October 2005 - after losing a battle with Craig Anderson to be the backup to prized free agent Nikolai Khabibulin - Leighton was shipped to Buffalo for some guy named Milan Bartovic.
These days, Khabibulin is in Edmonton, Anderson is in Colorado and Bartovic isn't in the NHL. Leighton, on the other hand, will lead the Flyers onto his former home ice for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals on Saturday at the United Center. If it feels weird to read it, it feels just as odd to type it.
"Any time you play [against] a team that traded you or picked someone else over you . . . you're always a little bit mad that you didn't get more of a chance or you didn't play well and they just ditched you," he said.
Leighton had similar motivation against Montreal, which traded him to Carolina in 2007, and he posted three shutouts against the Canadiens in the Eastern Conference finals. Other former teams include Anaheim, Nashville and, yes, the Flyers, who waived him in 2007. The Flyers picked him back up off waivers in December.
Leighton, 29, didn't play in Chicago with many of the current Blackhawks, but he was in the minors with defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. He was in net when the Flyers beat the Blackhawks in the final seconds in a March game at the Wachovia Center, but never started a game in Chicago wearing the opposing uniform.
"I'm excited to hear the national anthem and hear the crowd going," he said. "It's just a fun building to play in. It's very similar to Montreal. It's one of those rinks you like playing in."
Leighton is tops in postseason save percentage (.948) and goals-against average (1.45) and might even be tougher to score against in this series if that chip on his shoulder pads can help block some shots.
"Just going back and playing against them, it's fun," he said. "Because you do have that little extra that you want to prove."
Eyes on the prize
Lining the walls near the locker room at the Flyers' practice facility in Voorhees are large pictures of the glory years. One photo shows Bobby Clarke and others joyously lifting the Stanley Cup, another is an aerial shot of the area near Philadelphia's City Hall the day of the parade. All you see is people.
They are gentle reminders of how crazy this area will get if the Flyers can win four more games. Jeff Carter clearly understands this and vividly remembers the Phillies' World Series championship 2 years ago.
"I went to a lot of the games, but didn't get to go to the parade," he said. "I did see it on TV and stuff. You see the pictures downstairs from the last time the Flyers won and it's pretty amazing. It's something that is in the back of your mind and that you work toward, for sure."