Redemption in results for Leino, others
PHILADELPHIA -- The list of passengers on the Philadelphia Flyers' redemption express grows longer every day.
Welcome aboard, Ville Leino. He was the afterthought who couldn't find his way into the Flyers' lineup for days and yet scored the winning goal in Friday's 5-3 victory against the Blackhawks that evened up this wildly compelling Stanley Cup finals series at two games apiece.
Leino now has three goals and an assist against Chicago and has set a franchise record for both goals and points by a rookie in the playoffs.
Leino's performance in Game 4 was even more impressive given he was sent spinning headlong into the boards by a ferocious Brian Campbell check in the first period and was forced to leave the game briefly with back spasms.
Although the goal itself might not have received high marks for artistry -- Leino's shot bounced off Chicago forward Kris Versteeg and then somehow found its way over netminder Antti Niemi -- he once again showed a high level of skill controlling the puck and maneuvering his way into the slot before taking the shot.
"It's amazing, it's like we have a superstar on our team right now," Simon Gagne said. "He's been unbelievable for us; a very big goal tonight. He's in my mind our best player since the first game."
The Stanley Cup finals are now a best-of-three thanks in large part to players like Leino, players who maybe didn't know if they fit or whose seasons have been marked by disappointment or question marks.
"We give [Leino] credit because he wasn't even playing that first round, but he kept himself in great shape and injuries came and he just took advantage of that and never looked back," Ian Laperriere said. "Some guys give up and say, 'All right, I'm not playing.' This guy went the other way, it's like, 'I'll do extra work to make sure [I'm ready] when I get the call.'
"You've got to give credit to a guy like that. He kept himself in unbelievable shape and everybody knows him now, everybody. Not only in Finland, even in Quebec."
Leino acknowledged his confidence took a hit when he first arrived from Detroit in a trade that was essentially a salary dump for the Red Wings, who needed to make room for returning injured players.
"My confidence was at an all-time low there for a while. It was tough when I got here," Leino said. "I didn't get a chance right away. I played a few games, and after that, I didn't play again. It was just tough. Obviously, you go through emotions there and think maybe you won't ever get a chance."
In a mildly prophetic moment, Flyers coach Peter Laviolette discussed before Game 4 how the playoffs can be a great cleanser for players whose seasons might have been disappointing.
"I definitely think you can right some wrongs in the playoffs," he said Friday morning. "If you weren't happy with your regular season, the playoffs are an opportunity to write a new script for how your year went. It will probably be the script that's remembered, not the tougher times."
Take Mike Richards. He endured a rocky start to the season and questions about his captaincy before hitting his stride in the postseason. He had 22 points in 20 games heading into the Cup finals, but had struggled during the first three games against the Hawks.
But Friday night, he had his best game of the series and maybe the playoffs. He stripped the puck from Chicago defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson and backhanded it home on the power play for a 1-0 lead. He was a physical presence, and he and linemates Simon Gagne and Jeff Carter finally looked as though they might be hitting a groove.
"Richie always finds a way to step up when it's time," said Claude Giroux, who scored with 36.3 seconds left in the first period to restore a two-goal lead for the Flyers. "Obviously, his goal was huge. He just always finds a way to get that big goal for us."
Richards admitted he and his line may have been trying to do too much. The line was minus-14 through the first three games of the Cup finals.
"When you try to do too much, you almost go the opposite way," said Richards. "It's nice to obviously contribute. It's nice to get the win."
Who else is on board the redemption express? How about James van Riemsdyk, a healthy scratch for Games 2 and 3 after looking a little bit like a deer in the headlights in Game 1? He returned to the lineup for Game 4 in the place of Daniel Carcillo and provided a physical presence playing mostly with Giroux and Arron Asham. He also chipped in an assist on the winning goal.
"At this time of the year, it's all about going and doing what you can and playing hockey," he said. "It was maybe good for me to take a step back a little bit and just really appreciate how fast the game is and how quick decisions need to be made out there. So I think it ended up being a good thing for me."
And let's make room for netminder Michael Leighton. Although Philadelphia held a 3-1 lead at the end of the first period, the bulk of the play was actually in the Flyers' end. Leighton, pulled in Game 1 after allowing five goals on 20 shots, looked positively Zen in Game 4, turning aside 31 of 34 shots. It was his best game of this series.
"I actually felt my best today, too. I was comfortable. I wasn't nervous," Leighton said. "I had confidence in our team that we would play well. And in the first period, I felt I made a couple of saves that really got me into the game and kept our team in."
Although the Hawks scored twice in less than four minutes in the third to turn a comfortable 4-1 lead into a 4-3 squeaker, Leighton said he wasn't worried.
"Obviously, the last three or four minutes was a pretty intense feeling," he said. "Like I said, I try not to think about it. I just try to keep doing what I'm doing. I knew they're going to be coming hard the last couple of minutes, pulling the goalie and everything. [I was] just trying to do what I can do, and it worked out."
Now, the Flyers' express departs for Chicago for Sunday's Game 5. They are two wins away from a Stanley Cup that hardly seemed possible two months ago, heck, even two days ago.
But, as Laviolette said, the playoffs are a place for new scripts to be written.
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
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2010 STANLEY CUP FINALS -- GAME 4 RECAP
Philly beat Chicago 5-3 to even the finals at two games apiece: