Leighton may pay for Kane goal, farewell parade for Hossa, more
Michael Leighton gave his best, but a new contract may not be coming
With cap issues ahead, look for the Blackhawks to shop Marian Hossa
It would be nice if the 'Hawks saluted Dale Tallon, who built this team
Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette got it right when he praised the Blackhawks, their talent, tenacity and, most importantly, their speed. They are deserving Stanley Cup champions and he recognized them as such.
He also got it right when he acknowledged how proud he was of his team. Sure, he threw in the cliché that the Flyers never quit (what team does in the Stanley Cup Final?), but it was understandable in that some teams do give up in the early rounds, especially when they face the adversity of, oh, say, a 3-0 deficit in games or a 3-0 deficit on the scoreboard in a seventh game.
The Flyers were relentless in overcoming every obstacle. But it's what Laviolette didn't say that will stick with them for a long time to come. What he didn't say was that his goaltending wasn't good enough. It wasn't good in any of their losses in Chicago and it wasn't good enough when Patrick Kane scored from a ridiculously bad angle in overtime to drive the Flyers to defeat.
To win the series or even have a chance, the Flyers needed a split in the first two games in Chicago or a win in Game Five there. Not only did they fail to get either one, the series wasn't really that close despite some scores that said otherwise. In what came down to a waiver-wire pickup in Michael Leighton vs. an untested rookie in Antti Niemi, Niemi won out. Niemi was tagged with a dramatic game-tying goal in the third period of Game 6, a goal that gave the Flyers life and overtime and a chance to force a Game 7, but he was also brilliant in that period and he kept the Blackhawks from losing the game even before it got to the extra session.
Leighton, not so much.
He had his moments along the way, including some impressive shutouts against what amounted to offensively-challenged teams in the early going. But with the Cup on the line, he blinked -- on more than one occasion. It was never more obvious than on Kane's Cup-winning goal.
You can point a finger of blame at the overall team defense that allowed Kane to move so freely and with such breathtaking speed inside the zone. But at the end of that rush, Kane was put off to a bad angle. Though there was a Blackhawk (Andrew Ladd) in front of the net, he was being contained by the Flyers' defense. That left Kane with no option but to put the puck on net and hope something good would happen.
It did, largely because Leighton chose to drop on the shot in an awkward one-knee-down, one-knee-back position when he should have been upright and snug to the post. His ill-conceived crouch gave Kane several openings to shoot at, and a player of Kane's talent and especially gifted hands won't miss. That the puck became embedded in the mesh made for some confusion in the arena and prompted the NHL to do the kind of video review it ignored after the controversial 1999 Cup-winning goal by Brett Hull vs. Buffalo, but Kane knew his shot had gone in.
Kane, a native of South Buffalo, partied like it was 1999 and his hometown team had won the Cup. Almost everyone in the building -- and likely anyone watching on TV -- was at least unsure, but Leighton knew it was in as well. You could tell by the way he froze in that one-knee-down position, and his quick look back to the very spot where the puck was embedded in the mesh. While all around him were uncertain, he didn't bother to get back up and get in position to carry on.
My colleague Michael Farber, elsewhere on these pages, likened Kane's shot to the goal that Sidney Crosby scored to win the gold medal for Canada vs. Team USA and goalie Ryan Miller, and he was right. Miller likely would give back all 30 pieces of USA silver to have that goal back, but you could argue that he made a bad decision and lunged for a poke check when standing up and hugging the post might have been the better play. Leighton simply left holes that Kane exploited. Kane had the option to go up or down almost anywhere along the short-side post, but he chose the noticeable hole between the goalie's pads, the dreaded five hole, a spot that any good shooter is only too happy to see, especially when he's so deep thatt he's about to skate beyond the goal line.
The goal clearly stunned the Flyers who, even long after the review confirmed their worst fears, had trouble coming to grips with it. "It stings, it hurts," said Scott Hartnell, who scored two goals, including the one that forced OT. "It will be in the back of our heads for a while."
"It's going to take a little bit of time to get over the sting of this loss," added Daniel Briere, who emerged as a Conn Smythe Trophy candidate for the Flyers, with a franchise record 30 playoff points.
"I don't think this will set in for awhile," said Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger. "I don't think anybody knew where it was except for the guy who shot it and somebody else." A clear reference to Leighton.
No one in that room fingered Leighton per se, and in his next sentence Pronger went out of his way to praise him, but it was clear that the shot had an impact on them all, including the goalie. "It's usually not a great goal. It's usually a fluke, stupid kind of goal. And that's what happened," said Leighton.
The Flyers' quest for a quality goaltender has lasted almost as long as Moses' stay in the desert. They have been to the Cup final a total of six times since their last win in 1975 (at Buffalo) only to be beaten each time, and usually because they weren't quite good enough in net. That Leighton gave his best is not in question. That his best was not good enough is also no longer a question. It's a reality.
Leightion's contract expires at the end of this month and there is a real possibility that a new offer might not be coming. He was a hero of sorts in games against Boston and Montreal, but there were numerous points in the Chicago series where the Flyers' management team had to take notice that bad goaltending was costing the team a chance to win. They are likely to address that, and one could argue that Leighton, Brian Boucher or Ray Emery can't take the Flyers to the place they want to be.