Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Leighton, Flyers Dominate Again to Gain 2-0 Series Lead

By: Tim Brennan

If you were expecting a different outcome in Game 2 after the Flyers rout of Montreal on home soil, then you thought wrong.

Michael Leighton came out of Game 2 clinging to a shutout streak of 165 minutes and 50 seconds and continues to prove how valuable an asset he is to this Flyers club. Really, the 29 year old goaltender deserves all the credit in the world for picking up another shutout, his 2nd straight and 3rd of the playoffs, after never having played in an NHL postseason game prior to Game 5 of the Conference Semifinals against Boston coming in relief of Brian Boucher.

Leighton continued to dominate, facing 16 shots in the 1st period compared to Philadelphia's measly 6. Surprisingly one of those 6 shots for the Flyers found it's way past Jaroslav Halak, with Danny Briere picking up yet another powerplay goal. Another undisciplined penalty by Scott Gomez cost his team big time as Briere received a back hand pass from Claude Giroux entering the zone and used Hal Gill as a screen to put it low past Halak. A goal barely 4 minutes into the game on home ice with the crowd behind your back is a strong catalyst to victory.

Briere's 9th of the postseason put Philadelphia along the right direction to another win over the Canadiens. A powerplay tally by Simon Gagne in the 2nd crippled Montreal and ultimately vanquished their spirits. Ville Leino rushed to keep the puck deep in Montreal's zone with the man advantage and was able to hand it off to Gagne. Gagne went down behind the net and passed it to Richards, who's saucer pass landed right on Leino's stick for a quick back hand shot. As Leino swatted at the rebound, Gagne came in shoveled it past a sprawled Halak for a 2-0 lead. Oddly enough, Philadelphia got on the board for a 2nd time after only putting 7 shots on net the entire period.

As the third period rolled around, the Flyers buckled down defensively in order to secure the lead. The pairing of Chris Pronger and Matt Carle continued to shut down Montreal's offensive dynamo Mike Cammalleri, limiting his opportunities and forcing the leading goal scorer in the playoffs to take shots from the outside. The combination of the top two defense pairing for Philadelphia against the Canadiens' top lines has proved to be a major component to the Flyers two game lead in the series. Even though it was defense first in the third, the Flyers poured on the shots with 10 in the last stanza to Montreal's 4 and to make matters worse, Ville Leino scored to put a comeback out of the picture. Leino's goal could be considered ugly, as he entered the zone with speed to the outside and unloaded a regular looking wrist shot that managed to go past Halak, who didn't even move to stop it.

So Philadelphia looks pretty set for the time being after gaining a two game lead and the unbelievably spectacular play from Michael Leighton. In 4 starts in these 2010 playoffs, the unbeatable Leighton has posted a ridiculous .962 save percentage along with a .96 goals against average. Wow, now that is Conn Smythe caliber numbers right there. The Flyers got outshot again in this game, 30 to 23, so it was up to Leighton to shut down the high powered Canadiens offense and let the Flyers back him up with a couple of goals. The turning point of the game could have easily been Briere's back breaker only 4 minutes in but Leighton's big save on Tom Pyatt in the early stages of the first was just as important. Tomas Plekanec went behind the cage and attempted a wrap around with a rebound kicked right to the stick of Pyatt, who's point blank opportunity was blocked away by Leighton.

The Flyers will look to Leighton to keep his strong play going and continue to shut down the Montreal's quick forwards and rattle Halak's cage. They now have to enter the unfriendly confines of the Bell Centre and that means that they need to bring forth the same effort they did in front of their own fans. The two players to keep your eye on will be Danny Briere and Simon Gagne, two hometown boys who will be mercilessly booed and usually thrive under pressure in Montreal.

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