Flyers goalie Michael Leighton had a forgettable final season with the Chicago Blackhawks - six wins in 32 games.

That was in 2003-04 for an awful Chicago team that managed 59 points. Leighton went 6-18-8 with a 2.99 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage.

A lot has happened to Leighton since then. He has played with six other NHL franchise and refined his game greatly.

His numbers with the Flyers this year (16-5-2, 2.48, .918) show the improvement, but it's more than the numbers.

It's how comfortable he has become in the nets since he became united with Jeff Reese, the Flyers' first-year goalie coach. Reese made a slight tweak - moving Leighton back in the crease a bit - and fine-tuned the goalie's game.

So, Chicago will be facing a much better goalie than the one who spent 2004-05 in the Blackhawks' minor-league system before they traded him to Buffalo for Milan Bartovic in 2005.

Better and more confident.

Leighton, who will face Chicago in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals on Saturday night, is 6-1 in the playoffs, and he leads the NHL in goals-against average (1.45) and save percentage (.948).

"I think all of my game is better," Leighton said after Wednesday's practice in Voorhees. "I look back on some of the tape when I was in Chicago and I say, 'Wow. I can't believe I was even in the league then with some of the moves I was doing.' Things I was doing technically."

With the help of many goalie coaches over the years, especially Reese, Leighton has made adjustments that have improved his game.

"I took a little bit from each goalie coach and molded what I am now," Leighton said. "Obviously playing more games, even in the AHL, you gain experience and that was a big part for me, too. I kind of got my game back and felt good about myself."

Leighton said he was "excited to play Chicago because I was there and I lived there for a while. That's pretty much about it. I take it as a challenge. Obviously, I want revenge in a way, but I know they're a good team, so we're taking them serious. It's going to be a good series."

Leighton, 29, said he's been "tossed around a lot" in the past, but that he wants to look ahead, not back.

"This is something I've dreamed about my whole life - playing for the Stanley Cup," he said. "I'm trying not to think about the past right now and what I've been through. I'm just kind of focusing on hockey."

He said playing in the last three pressure-packed games against Boston - he relieved the injured Brian Boucher during Game 5 of the conference semifinals - have helped relax him for the Finals.

"That's why I don't think I'm that nervous now because I've already been in so many elimination games in the Boston series," he said.

Because he always seems to be in the right position and takes up lots of space with his lanky, 6-foot-3, 186-pound frame, Leighton rarely has to make difficult saves. He made 39 stops as the Flyers edged Chicago, 3-2, in the teams' only regular-season meeting March 13.

A sixth-round draft pick of Chicago in 1999, Leighton battled Craig Anderson for the starting job in the Hawks' minor-league system until he was traded in 2005. He played in the minors with Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, two key defensemen on the current Chicago team.

Leighton admits he will have extra incentive facing the Blackhawks - as he did in the conference finals against Montreal, another team that sent him packing earlier in his career.

He acknowledged "you're a little mad you didn't get more of a chance or you didn't play well and they just ditched you."

Ditched is not the word the Flyers use when talking about the unflappable Leighton.

The two are now hitched.