Flyers can't escape the goalie drama
CHICAGO -- It wouldn't be the Philadelphia Flyers if there wasn't a goaltending controversy.
No NHL franchise has hammered one storyline more consistently than the Flyers and their masked men.
Here we are, one game into the 2010 Stanley Cup finals, and it might as well be 1997 or 2001 or pick any year over the past two decades. Who's starting in goal? Has there been a more overused question in any hockey town?
"It's been question marks since Bernie [Parent]," goalie Brian Boucher said with a smile Sunday. "He's the last guy to win. I'm sure until there's a winner again, there will always be questions."
At first on Sunday, Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said he would keep the identity of his Game 2 starter under wraps until the puck dropped Monday, but then reversed course hours later and announced Michael Leighton as his starter via the Flyers PR department. Presumably it's because he wanted to deliver the news to his two goalies before telling the rest of the world.
It was just the latest goalie drama in the never-ending soap opera involving the netminders who have worn orange and black. Last season, we chronicled Philadelphia's two-decade-old revolving door in goal, and the theme hasn't changed much since, only the men between the pipes.
This season, Martin Biron and Antero Niittymaki were gone, replaced by Ray Emery, then Boucher, then Leighton, then Boucher, then Leighton, then Boucher for the rest of Game 1 on Saturday night. And now back to Leighton.
We guess Dominic Roussel can't come out of retirement. Remember him? He was the starter in 1993-94. He had replaced Tommy Soderstrom as the No. 1 goalie, but only for one season. Ron Hextall's second tour of duty would knock Roussel out of the No. 1 job, and it went on and on with Garth Snow, Sean Burke, John Vanbiesbrouck, Boucher (first time), Roman Cechmanek, Robert Esche, Niittymaki, Biron, Emery, Boucher (second time) and Leighton.
OK, exhale. That's 13 different starting goalies in 17 seasons. They chew them out in a hurry in Philadelphia. Tough town for a goalie.
"The most excited I ever was in my career was going to Philly," Sean Burke told ESPN.com last season. "The second-most excited I ever was was to get the heck out of there."
Just a few days ago, Leighton was still the toast of the town in Philadelphia after his three-shutout performance in the Eastern Conference finals against Montreal. But the Chicago Blackhawks are not the Canadiens. Leighton was pilloried for five goals on 20 shots Saturday night and pulled for Boucher; in doing so, he dusted off Philadelphia's favorite hockey media topic.
It would have seemed unfair, in a way, for Leighton not to have a chance at redemption given his run for the Flyers.
"Obviously, I'd be disappointed," Leighton told reporters before Laviolette made his decision. "But we're in the Stanley Cup finals and it's not the time to be mad at someone if I'm not starting. My goal is to win a Stanley Cup, starting or on the bench."
Boucher, who was dynamite in beating the New Jersey Devils in the first round before being felled by knee injuries, said he would understand either way.
"At this point, you put your personal agenda to the side and do what's right for the team," said Boucher. "For me, being injured and out in the last series, I'm really just happy to be back in the locker room with the guys and we'll just take it one step at a time. However they need me, I'll be ready. But I'm just happy to be back practicing and in the role that I'm in right now."
Boucher or Leighton? The question enveloped the media here at the Cup finals on Sunday, but not so much in the Flyers' dressing room.
"Honestly, to us, it doesn't matter," said Flyers center Danny Briere, coming off a four-point night. "Both guys have played well. I think they're [at] six wins apiece. So it doesn't matter who is going to play for us. But the one thing, I mean, if there are players that should take the blame for last night, it's certainly not our goaltending. The chances we gave, the shots we gave in dangerous areas, we haven't done that too many times in the playoffs.
"Like I said last night not too many goalies are going to be successful when you give point-blank chances to score the way we did last night."
With Leighton back in net, Briere pointed to recent history that bodes well for Philly.
"The last time he had kind of a rougher night was in Montreal," Briere said, referring to a 5-1 Game 3 loss to the Habs. "And he came back with a shutout the next night or the next game. So, I mean, he's shown a lot of character, and for a guy that's had to go [through] what he went through the last few years, I think it shows his perseverance, his character that he's still here, he's still fighting. He still wants to make it and make a name for himself. I'm not too worried about him."
What, worry about the goalie in Philadelphia? Of course not.
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.