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Leighton is forgotten man for Flyers

Michael Leighton is trying to adapt to a difficult situation.

Michael Leighton is trying to adapt to a difficult situation.

You remember Leighton. He's the waiver-wire wonder who rescued the Flyers' season and helped them reach the Stanley Cup Finals last spring.

Now, through a series of circumstances out of his control, he's No. 3 on the Flyers' goaltender depth chart.

"Obviously, I want to play," Leighton said after a recent practice in Voorhees. "It's not a good situation to have three goalies, but I just have to do what I can do, work hard in practice and be patient."

Leighton had back surgery on Oct. 11, giving unheralded rookie Sergei Bobrovsky a chance to shine. Bobrovsky has done just that, and Brian Boucher has been superb in a backup role.

The Flyers are keeping three goalies at the moment; they don't want to try to ship Leighton or Boucher to the AHL Phantoms because another team could claim them on waivers.

Bobrovsky has a two-way contract and could be shipped to the Phantoms, but he has been one of the NHL's best goalies. General manager Paul Holmgren said he wasn't even considering demoting the 22-year-old Russian.

Carrying three goalies is difficult because one of them, Leighton, does not get a lot of practice time. He has to get on the ice before and after practices in order to get more work.

"It's tough because one guy right now is kind of out of the mix and standing around for practice," goalie coach Jeff Reese said. "The two guys that are dressing need to get the work. Leights right now is the odd-man out, but he saw last year how quickly things change."

Added Reese: "It's my job to make sure he's sharp when he does get in. Mentally, it's a grind on [him]. As a former goalie, you almost feel guilty of the guy standing there and watching practice. It's just human nature. You want to get him in, but they [the other goalies] need to get their work. They need to prepare and be ready because they're the guys who are dressing."

It would seem difficult for the third goalie to stay sharp, but Leighton proved in last season's playoffs that it can be done.

"He was out two months with the ankle injury, and without any games in the minors or anything, he went in and stood on his head," Reese said.

Leighton relieved the injured Boucher during Game 5 in Boston and won the final three games of that epic series. In the conference finals against Montreal, Leighton posted a 1.40 goals-against average, a .950 save percentage and three shutouts, becoming the first Flyer to notch consecutive playoff shutouts since Bernie Parent in 1975.

"We can only do some much, conditioning wise; playing in the game is completely different," Reese added, "and Leights showed a lot of mental toughness going in there. He knows how quickly things can change.

"It's not ideal, but we're all going to make the best of it, and for me, it's my job to keep all three as happy as they can be and as sharp as they can be."

Said Leighton, who struggled in the Finals and hasn't played a regular-season game for the Flyers since allowing Patrick Kane's bad-angle, Cup-winning goal for Chicago: "I just have to stay sharp in case something happens so I'm ready to play."

A trade is also a possibility once the holiday roster freeze ends. The freeze runs from Sunday through Dec. 27. Right now, Tampa Bay is in need of goalie help, and Washington could use a veteran goaltender. The top veteran goalie available is Evgeni Nabokov, the former San Jose star who recently left Russia and wants to return to the NHL.


Bobrovsky is expected to get the nod as the Flyers host lowly Florida Monday. They then don't play again until eight nights later, in Vancouver on Dec. 28. . . . Saturday's 4-1 win over the Rangers gave the Flyers a five-point lead atop the NHL, their largest margin since 1987. . . . Coach Peter Laviolette on the Panthers: "If you don't respect them, they'll come in and outwork you and steal points from you." . . . There are 300 tickets left for Monday's game.