Back in February, we asked the question here at The 700 Level whether Michael Leighton was the Flyers' MVP up to that point. That may have been a reach even then, his play happening to coincide with the club's rebound from a horrid start. It was fair though. Here was this mid-season waiver pickup who was suddenly thrust into the starting lineup, and the team was winning games. He deserves some credit for that.
As it turns out, the defense the Flyers played was probably just that good. When Leights went down and Brian Boucher had to pick up the slack, they simply continued to roll. Chris Pronger made that much of an impact on this team. And when Boosh likewise succumbed to an injury, it was the very evening Leighton returned to the bench, and all he did was hold down the fort the rest of the way to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Still, Michael Leighton had a huge positive influence on this season, one that ended two wins shy of a championship. He certainly didn't do it by himself, but they couldn't necessarily have done it without him either.
Last night's game winner was soft. Unfortunately, he allowed several "soft" goals in this series. He was pulled twice. Nobody is going to make the case that Leighton gave the Flyers the kind of stellar performance in goal that wins championships. And yet, nobody ever expected he would need to. You'll use two hands if you count the number of times their season was on life support.
So if he was a little overmatched by an extremely talented and very deserving Blackhawks team, how can you blame him? There were shots he could have stopped, ones that maybe another goaltender stops. The Flyers didn't have another goaltender though. They had a guy who spent a year out of the NHL, a 33-year-old backup, and Leighton, who spent most of his career playing in the AHL.
Actually, at times all they had was Leighton, like for games six and seven against Boston and the entire series versus Montreal in the Eastern Finals. If you want to toss his contributions to the Flyers' amazing run in the garbage over a couple of tough nights against a great opponent, you're just plain ungrateful. The truth is we were lucky to have the man, because who knows how far they would have made it without him.
Should he rejoin the Flyers next season and what should his role be? I don't know, nor have I the heart to answer right now. The venom directed at Leights is unnecessary and excessive though. For once, be happy with the ride somebody gave you. It didn't work out, but it was oh-so-fun, and it's a story you won't be forgetting... ever.