OFFICIALLY, PETER Laviolette did not announce his starting goaltender for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals.
But rest assured, Michael Leighton will be in net for the Flyers when the puck drops at the Wachovia Center tonight as they try to stave off elimination for the sixth time this season.
"Do you know who is starting in net for Chicago?" Laviolette fired back at reporters when asked about Leighton. "Did they announce that yet?"
There is no question mark in Chicago's net; Antti Niemi has been the Blackhawks' starter for every game of the playoffs so far. Then again, Niemi has played every minute of the Stanley Cup finals.
Leighton has not. He was yanked out of Game 1 and Sunday's Game 5, when he allowed three goals on 13 shots.
The problem was that Brian Boucher wasn't much better, allowing three goals on 14 shots as the Flyers went on to lose, 7-4.
That's why Leighton, who the Flyers have ridden for much of the season, will be the man in the crease tonight. Leighton has a playoff-best 2.34 goals-against average, the second-best save percentage (.918), and is a perfect 6-0 at the Wachovia Center during the playoffs.
"Our goaltender has the best numbers in the playoffs," Laviolette said after the Flyers' 45-minute skate yesterday afternoon. "I didn't think I had to announce it."
Laviolette followed that by saying that he doesn't "comment on lineups or goaltenders." But he did go on to give Leighton a verbal pat on the back.
"I'm very confident in Michael," Laviolette said. "He's played excellent in the playoffs. His home numbers are terrific."
Boucher was not mentioned once during the news conference.
Leighton, meanwhile, was not available to comment on starting since Laviolette had not "officially announced the starter."
Before Laviolette's clandestine, de facto announcement, Leighton spoke about the position he might be in tonight.
"It's not much different than the Boston series," Leighton said. "Our backs are against the wall. If we lose, we're done. If we win, we move on. You enjoy where you are and where things are going but it's not too much fun with the stress. Right now, it's all serious and focused. It's not too much fun. You don't want to enjoy too much until it's over."
First line awakening?
It took the Chicago Blackhawks four games and multiple line changes in order to see results from their top players. Five games into the Stanley Cup finals, the Flyers are still searching.
Mike Richards and Jeff Carter each have just one goal through the first five contests. And that includes Carter's empty-net goal to close out Game 4. Richards' goal came on the power play.
We don't expect to see many line changes from Peter Laviolette heading into Game 6, leaving the onus on Richards, Carter and Simon Gagne to produce.
"I don't think it's a matter of panicking and changing our lines up," said Carter, who added that his fractured foot has not affected him this series. "I think last game, we basically just didn't play our game. We can score goals. We can score eight goals a game if we played our game for 60 minutes."
Richards said situations like these come down to confidence.
"I think we are getting a lot of great looks at the net," Richards said. "We're just not scoring goals. Confidence is such a big thing in hockey, where if you have it you're almost unstoppable. If you don't, it's tough to get anything going."
He remains confident that if he keeps working, he - and his linemates - will show up on the scoresheet tonight.
"It's not the first time that I've gone into a streak and haven't scored," Richards said. "I don't feel like I'm playing bad hockey. I don't feel I need to press for goals. I think they're going to come naturally if I keep working hard and keep going to the net. Hopefully [tonight]."
Peter Laviolette said he was unlikely to opt for five defensemen and 13 forwards instead of the usual six defensemen and 12 forwards. That would have opened up room for Dan Carcillo, who is likely to be scratched again tonight. Defenseman Oskars Bartulis played just 1 minute, 58 seconds in Game 5 . . . Danny Briere reiterated that the cut below his right eye, which came as a result of a high-stick from Duncan Keith in Game 5, will not affect him tonight.
For more news and analysis, read Frank Seravalli's blog, Frequent Flyers, at http://go.philly.com/frequentflyers.