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Leighton's goal: A future in Philadelphia

Since the 2002-03 season, when he played his first NHL games with the Chicago Blackhawks, Michael Leighton has bounced around to seven different franchises.

Since the 2002-03 season, when he played his first NHL games with the Chicago Blackhawks, Michael Leighton has bounced around to seven different franchises.

Proving that his gaudy, 16-5-2 record - and 10-game unbeaten streak - with the Flyers in the regular season was not a fluke, Leighton finally may have found a home in Philadelphia.

"I think we certainly have to talk to him about being a part of our future plans," Comcast-Spectacor chief operating officer Peter Luukko said yesterday. "He has done an incredible job. I honestly can't remember the last playoff where both goalies played outstanding like our guys have.

"Usually, one player gets a chance to play when another plays poorly. This wasn't [Brian] Boucher's fault at all. Leighton has been unbelievable."

Leighton is due to be an unrestricted free agent on July 1. Picking up for the injured Boucher and carrying the Flyers to the Stanley Cup finals, Leighton definitely has a hefty raise coming his way after earning $600,000 this season - money split between the Flyers and Carolina, from where he was claimed off waivers on Dec. 15.

Besides the Flyers, Leighton, 29, has appeared in games for Chicago, Nashville and Carolina and has been property of Montreal, Buffalo and Anaheim but never played a game. Since he has lived out of a suitcase for much of his career, his wife and two young kids have called Ontario home for the last few years.

"I'd like to settle down at some point," Leighton said recently. "It would be nice to have stability, knowing that I can stay in one place for a period of time."

Ray Emery, who began the year as the Flyers' starter, also will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1. Coming off career-threatening surgery in December, Emery is unlikely to be signed by any NHL team.

Boucher is the only Flyers goalie signed to an NHL contract for next season. He will earn approximately $900,000.

Leighton has said he would be open to returning to the Flyers next season, though security is his biggest issue. Leighton and his agent, Mike Liut, said they will be ready to negotiate once the season is over.

That works for the Flyers.

"We've just been living day-to-day and series-to-series right now," Luukko said. "I don't think we want to try to build our team for next season when this season isn't over yet. That's not such a bad thing."

Boucher returning?

Brian Boucher hinted that he may be able to return to the lineup as soon as Game 1 in Chicago on Saturday. Boucher skated with the Flyers yesterday at practice, just 2 weeks after leaving Game 5 against the Boston Bruins with sprained MCLs in both knees.

"I think there is a chance, yeah," Boucher said. "I think [yesterday] was a day to get through, and it went very well. My goal is to be good enough to go for Game 1 and help in any way."

Boucher said it was "extremely tough" not being around his teammates, watching them win the Eastern Conference from afar. He did not travel with the team to Montreal. After the injury, Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said Boucher would be out "approximately 1 month" and his season was "for all intents and purposes, over."

Not anymore.

"Nobody told me that the season was over for me," Boucher said. "It wasn't like I didn't think I had a chance. I guess this is about where I thought I'd be. For me, I just wanted to work - and there were some hurdles I needed to get over to get to this point.

"Knock on wood, there weren't any setbacks. It's just nice to get back in the locker room and on the ice with the guys. For me, that's a win so far."

Boucher was 6-4 with a .915 save percentage and 2.33 goals against average for the Flyers in the playoffs, his first game action in the postseason since 2000. *