NHL-Flyers' Leighton celebrates perfect birthday

Thu, 20 May 00:55:00 2010

Having posted back-to-back shut-outs against the Montreal Canadiens, Philadelphia's Michael Leighton celebrated his 29th birthday on Wednesday, backing up his theory that as netminders get older, they get better.

Leighton's rock-solid form in the first two games of the Eastern Conference final has shaded opposite number Jaroslav Halak, and helped the Flyers take a 2-0 lead in the series.

"Turning 29 I'm not getting any younger but goalies they say develop as they get older," Leighton, who will try for a third straight shutout when the Canadiens host Game Three on Thursday, told reporters.

"So I'm hoping that that's true with me and I just keep getting better."

In a Stanley Cup post-season that has provided many Cinderella storylines, Leighton's vagabond journey may be the best of them all.

Taken by the Blackhawks in the sixth round of the 1999 draft, Leighton has criss-crossed North America to chase his NHL dream with stints in Chicago, Nashville, Carolina and Philadelphia twice along with five more stops in the minor leagues.

He has been claimed off waivers four times since 2006 and returned to Philadelphia in December as the Flyers backup.

"My goal is to play in the NHL. It's not to play in the AHL or go to Russia," he said.

"My job is to do my best and try to stay in the NHL. That's my dream, so I'm living it right now."

Leighton seized his chance to post a 16-5-2 record for the season, helping their push for a playoff spot before being sidelined with an ankle sprain in mid-March.

The Canadian remained on the bench until Brian Boucher went down with an injury during Game Five of their East semi-final against the Boston Bruins.

Since taking over, Leighton has been in net for five straight Philadelphia wins as the Flyers rallied to eliminate the Bruins and leap to a 2-0 lead over the Canadiens.

He has not allowed a goal in the last 165 minutes and becomes the first Flyers netminder since Bernie Parent 35 years ago to earn back-to-back playoff shutouts.

"A shutout to me means a little bit but the win means a lot more," Leighton said after the Flyers' Game Two win. "We could have won 3-1 and I would have been just as happy."

For the moment, however, the only thing Leighton is celebrating is another birthday.

Despite his form, he remains without a contract for next season and might be looking for another job come Fall.

"I'm just trying to stay positive," he said. "I've obviously played for a lot of teams ... I'm happy to play for those teams but I'd like some stability.

"I've heard a lot of rumours about them possibly getting another goalie in here.

"As long as I have a job somewhere."

(Writing by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Ian Ransom; To query or comment on this story email


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