CHICAGO - The day between the first and second games of the Stanley Cup Finals, Don Cherry, the well-known Canadian hockey commentator, compared the goaltending in the Blackhawks' 6-5 win over the Flyers to the kind you're likely to see an industrial league.
Although it can be difficult to take seriously a guy who's wearing a full-length cherry red overcoat, it was even more difficult to disagree with him. The Flyers' Michael Leighton and Chicago's Antti Niemi combined to give up 10 goals, and you could practically see Leighton's replacement, Brian Boucher, scraping off the rust from inactivity when he was beaten by Troy Brouwer for the Blackhawks' game-winner late in the third period.
There was a significant upgrade in the goaltending in the 2-1 Chicago win Monday that gave the Blackhawks a two-games-to-none lead as the series shifts to the Wachovia Center on Wednesday for Game 3.
Leighton was clearly better than in Game 1, displaying resilience.
"Well, I didn't give up five and I didn't get pulled so, yeah," he said when asked whether he felt he'd bounced back. "But we didn't win, so obviously I'm not too happy."
Leighton and Niemi were locked in a scoreless duel until Marian Hossa pounced on a rebound and jammed a shot past Leighton with 2 minutes, 51 seconds left in the second period.
Twenty-eight seconds later, the crowd was still on its feet saluting Hossa's goal when Ben Eager made it 2-0. Eager is more known for using his hands in the shape of balled fists than for scoring goals, but his wrist shot sailed over Leighton's glove hand. Leighton said he didn't see Eager release the shot.
"We had a turnover at the blue line, and he used his D as a screen," Leighton said. "I'm not saying he's an Alex Ovechkin, but that's how he scores a lot of his goals. He drags it and uses the D as a screen."
Leighton, who stopped the first 19 Chicago shots and 24 overall, had little chance on Hossa's goal. Overall, though, he gave the Flyers a chance to win. He proved he could recover from a bad game and put aside the disappointment of getting pulled.
The problem for the Flyers, though, is that Leighton wasn't as good as Niemi, who was forced to make the more difficult saves during the second and third periods, . He was impenetrable while the Flyers swarmed him after Simon Gagne cut the Blackhawks' lead to 2-1 on a power play with 14:40 to go in the third.
Like Leighton, the 26-year-old rookie from Finland had no NHL playoff experience before this season.
"Maybe it's better he had no experience," Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith said. "He played another great game for us, especially in the third period."
One of Niemi's better saves came in the final three minutes, after Ville Leino made a dazzling move around defenseman Brent Sopel and fired on him from in close. Niemi smothered it with his pads.
He had to be at his best in the final frantic 1:40, after the Flyers pulled Leighton for the extra attacker. He was, making 14 saves in the third period, 32 overall.
"We came out in the third period and played the way we can," Leighton said. "At least that's a positive. We played a good third period. We've obviously done well at home."