To say the least, the Flyers' goaltending this season has been... interesting.
In the offseason, the team dumped starter Martin Biron who had been steady but was clearly not going to lead them to a Stanley Cup title. Also shuffled away was reliable back up Antero Niitymaki.
In their place, the club brought in disgraced Ray Emery off the KHL scrap heap a year after he left Ottawa in shambles. The Flyers also turned to a former first-round pick in Brian Boucher who had spent the better part of a decade as a back up in various stops in the NHL.
The plan was for Emery (right) to regain his form as the Senators starter during their Stanley Cup run in 2007 and for the reliable Boucher to back him up.
But to paraphrase John Steinbeck, the best-laid plans of mice and men / go oft awry.
- Emery started most of the games for the first two months going 11-8-1 but looked rather ordinary. An abdominal injury sidelined him in early December.
- Boucher took over and looked even worse going 2-7-1 in December while filling in for Emery.
- With Emery injured and Boucher struggling, the Flyers were so desperate they claimed Michael Leighton (above) off waivers after he was dumped by the horrible Hurricanes in place of another waivers cast-off, Manny Legace.
- Leighton was very impressive as he went 8-1-1 and even got the start in net for the high-profile Winter Classic game in Boston.
- Emery returned in mid-January and went 5-2-0 with two shutouts but just wasn't healthy. He was shut down due to a hip ailment in early February.
- Leighton was back in as the starter and kept the chaotic Flyers in playoff contention by going 8-4-1 in February and March. But he too went down with an injury. A high ankle sprain suffered March 16 in Nashville ended his regular season.
- The Flyers turned to Boucher but he stumbled down the stretch with a 5-6-1 record.
- With the Flyers struggling to stay in the Eastern Conference's top eight, the team was so desperate, it threw undrafted free agent Johan Backlund (right) in net against the Penguins at Mellon Arena for his first career start. Backlund was solid making 22 saves on 24 saves but his NHL season was ended after two periods by a groin injury.
- The team was forced to rely on Boucher for the final weeks, but management had so little faith in him, former Penguins castoff Sebastien Caron, who had spent the past three years in Switzerland, was signed for the final four games of the season despite the fact he wouldn't be eligible for the the NHL's postseason since he was acquired after the trade deadline.
- In their final game on the final day of the regular season, Boucher pulled out a 2-1 win against the Rangers when he stoned New York's Olli Jokinen on the final shot of a shootout.
- The Flyers reward for making the postseason was a first-round match-up with the Atlantic Division-champion Devils and goaltending legend Martin Brodeur. So of course Boucher (right) outdueled the future hall-of-famer as the Flyers stomped the Devils in five games.
- In the second round, the Flyers seemed to come back to earth as the Bruins raced out to a 3-0 series lead. But a win in Game 4 by Boucher set into motion one of the most improbable comebacks in NHL history.
- Midway through Game 5, Boucher was in the midst of pitching a shutout when midway through the game, teammate Ray Parent and Bruins forward Miroslav Satan fell on him and injured both of his knees.
- A day after he was medically cleared to return to the lineup, Leighton stepped in and made the final 14 saves of a 4-0 shutout.
- With Boucher out indefinitely with knee sprains, Leighton limited the Bruins to one goal in a 2-1 win in Game 6 to tie the series, 3-3.
- The Flyers finally seemed dead and done in Game 7 when on the road, they fell to a quick 3-0 deficit to the Bruins. But Leighton was able to shut the door the rest of the way and allowed his teammates to stage a furious 4-3 comeback. They became the third team in NHL history to win a series after being down, 3-0.
- Next up was the equally improbable Canadiens and hot-scoring Mike Cammalleri. And of course naturally, Leighton, man who had all of four regular season shutouts on his NHL resume, would become the first goaltender in NHL history to record three shutouts in a single series as he led the Flyers to a 4-1 series win.
And here we are. Michael Leighton and the Flyers are four wins away from the franchise's first Stanley Cup title in 35 years.
The Flyers used five goaltenders - Backlund, Boucher, Emery, Leighton and Jeremy Duchesne (right), who had 17 minutes of mop-up duty in relief of Boucher in a 6-4 rout at the hands of the Islanders on April Fools Day) in regular season play this campaign. Only eight other Stanley Cup finalists have used that many goaltenders in NHL history:
|Flyers, 2010||Brian Boucher
|Oilers, 1990-*||Bill Ranford
|Oilers, 1985-*||Grant Fuhr
|Flyers, 1976||Wayne Stephenson
|Blues, 1969||Glenn Hall
|Maple Leafs, 1967-*||Terry Sawchuk
|Red Wings, 1964||Terry Sawchuk
|Bruins, 1958||Don Simmons
|Maple Leafs, 1932-*||Lorne Chabot
*-Won Stanley Cup.
-The 2010 Flyers and 1958 Bruins are the only teams on this list which do not have a Hockey Hall of Famer represented.
-The 1969 Blues (Hall and Plante) and 1967 Maple Leafs (Sawchuk and Bower) each had two future Hockey Hall of Famers playing goal.
-With regards to the 1932 Maple Leafs, Clancy Horner and Levinsky were actually defensemen pressed into spot duty as goaltenders. Back in the 1930s, most teams didn't carry steady back up goaltenders. If the starter were injured or had to leave the game for some reason, teams were forced to sometimes ask one of their regular skaters to don the pads. Francis "King" Clancy and Red Horner were each in the midst of hall-of-fame careers as defensemen. And they were playing in goal. Try to imagine Sergei Gonchar replacing Marc-Andre Fleury.
(Photos: Leighton and Emery-Matt Slocum/Associated Press; Backlund and Boucher-Bruce Bennett/Getty Images; Duchesne-Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)