Flyers face big goaltending decision

As the Flyers begin their offseason hoping to change the roster only enough to get two more wins than this season, the biggest question mark comes between the pipes.

The goaltender position was a revolving door this season. The Flyers went out and signed Ray Emery last offseason and immediately made him their No. 1 goalie. There were hops that he would find his 2006-2007 form and become the goalie Flyers fans have longed for the last decade. Instead injuries derailed his season and created instability on the backline.

In his place became the combination of Brian Boucher (33 games), Michael Leighton (27 games), Jeremy Duchesne (1 game) and Johan Backlund (1 game). Boucher and Leighton each had their moments in the regular season, but it is hard to say either is of No. 1 caliber.

Boucher produced a 2.76 GAA and Leighton had a 2.48, both more than respectable. Whether either could produce those numbers over a full season is yet to be seen.

Fans grew to love Boucher and Leighton in the playoffs as they helped lead the Flyers on an unbelievable journey to the Stanley Cup Finals. However, both struggled in the finals as the Blackhawks fired puck after puck in the net, particularly in Games 5 and 6. We don’t need to talk about the soft goals goals in Game 6.

Leighton did finish with a 2.46 GAA and three shutouts in the playoffs — tops among all goalies. The Flyers were also 16-5-2 when Leighton started in the regular season.

If the Flyers decide that Leighton is not their man (they already know Boucher will not be the starter) there is a host of free agent netminders to consider. Bellow is the the best of the bunch.

Notable free agents
Evgeni Nabokov, San Jose
Marty Turko, Dallas
Jose Theodore, Washington
Vesa Toskala, Calgary
Chris Mason, St. Louis
Dan Elis, Nashville
Martin Biron, New York Islanders

Nabokov is the first name on every fans wish list but is also the most unrealistic. He earned $6 million last season and the Flyers do not have the cap room to add that type of salary to the books. The team would have to move at least one prominent player to make room for Nabokov. If the front office could make a deal work without hurting the team’s offense too much I would be all for it. Top goalies are rarely available and when they are teams should pounce on them. Again I don’t think this move happens, but Nabokov is head and shoulders above the field.

After that things get a bit tricky. Turko and Theodore and respectable options, but each will also be looking for around $5 million. I don’t know if I trust either that much.

From there the choices get real sketchy though. If the team can not get top talent it may decide to save money and stick with Leighton and hope he pans out.

Re-signing Emery is also an option, though I haven’t heard a peep that would lend me to believe that would happen. He is still recovering from hip surgery and it is not known when or if he will be able to return.

The Flyers also have a pair of developing goalies in the minors in 2008 draftees Jacob DeSerres and Joacim Eriksson, but neither is considered to be ready for the big time in the upcoming season.

The final option would be working a trade for Florida’s Tomas Vokoun, who the team  had interest in at the trade deadline. Vokoun would be sure thing in net, but again working a trade will not be easy.

One thing that is certain is that money will need to be spent this season. Who it is spent on may very well decide if the Flyers are the ones celebrating with the Cup this time next year.

“I think Michael Leighton cost the Flyers $142,000 this year,” Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren recently said. “I think it’s fair to say that whoever our goalies are next year are going to cost a lot more than that.”

The feeling of a fan before Game 6

A bowl of cereal did not work. Neither did a glass of juice. I know when lunch rolls around that won’t help either.

That feeling in the pit of my stomach is going to be around until about 8:15 tonight. Even then it might last another three hours.

It’s do-or-die time for the Flyers as they take on the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals tonight. The Blackhawks lead the series 3-2 and will be looking to celebrate tonight at the Wachovia Center.

That’s the cause of the disturbing feeling in my stomach, not indigestion or the flue.

It’s a feeling of fear and trepidation; excitement and anticipation; confidence and worry.

It’s all there, every bit of it.

I’m sure I’m not alone today. Any fan that has invested much of the past few moths following the Flyers has that same feeling today — and is hoping to have that feeling again on Friday for Game 7.

In fact, any fan of any team in any sport who has been in the same situation knows the how unbearable the wait can be for a game. The work day seems to last forever, yet your work output hits an all-time low.

Clouds have covered the Delaware Valley and we have been assured that storms are on the way. Maybe it’s a symbol of bad things to come. Maybe not. The sun will return tomorrow, but whether Flyers fans will be able to notice it is another issue entirely.

After winning the Eastern Conference Finals Flyers Chairman Ed Snyder said ‘Anything past here is gravy’.

I wonder if Flyers fans will feel that way at 11 p.m. if it’s all over. I don’t want to think like that, yet my stomach forces me to.

At the same time my gut is telling me that tonight will be cause for celebration of an extended series. The celebration of the knowledge that Game 7 is coming, where anything can and will happen.

The Flyers can win tonight. The Flyers should win tonight. They are 9-1 at home and despite his shortcomings this series, Michael Leighton has been a rock at the Wachovia Center.

The first goal will be huge. As will the second and third. And the stomach will feel the impact of every one of them.

It’s the curse that myself and all other full-time sports fans have to live with. And it’s a curse I am longing to suffer through for one more game.

Leighton or Boucher in Game 6

Michael Leighton or Brian Boucher?

That is the question swirling around Philadelphia today as the Flyers prepare for a must-win Game 6 on Wednesday.

Both goalies struggled in Sunday’s 7-4 loss against Chicago, giving up three goals each. The seventh was scored on an empty netter.

Rich Hofmann details Laviolette’s decision here.

Laviolette knows who he will be starting but is keeping the rest of us in the dark. If the players know, they’re not talking either.

The truth of the matter is that regardless of which goalie is between the pipes, for the Flyers to survive the defense must be much better than it was in Game 5. The Flyers showed they could score and nearly had about four more goals on the board. The problem was each time they tried to claw back there was another breakdown and another Blackhawks goal.

The good news for the Flyers is that they return home for Game 6, where they are 9-1 this postseason. You know the Wachovia Center will rocking, even more so then in Game 4 when it sounded like the roof was going to blow off.

Back to the goalie situation, I think they team has to stick with Leighton. As tempting as it would be to go with Boucher, especially at home where he feeds of the crowd, this is Leighton’s series to win or loose. He went the first five games, he needs to be the guy for the final two — yes there will be two.

If you were Laviolette what would you do?

Flyers Tie The Series at 2

Philadelphia evened the series and gave new light to their chances at the Stanley Cup Friday when they defeated Chicago 5-3. Despite a scare late in the third period, five goals from five different Flyers were enough to put them past the Blackhawks in Game 4.

Mike Richards started the game off right when he recorded his seventh goal of the playoffs, an unassisted power play goal less than five minutes into the game. Philadelphia surely knew that a score from their star would mean good things for the rest of the game. The Flyers struck again putting Philadelphia up 2-0 when defense-man Matt Carle notched his first goal of the postseason just over ten minutes later. Read more

Win or Go Home (Almost)

The Flyers’s season is on the line tonight when they return home to take on Chicago. After falling behind 2-0, Philadelphia needs to get a win in the series under their belt to avoid falling 3-0 for the second time in the playoffs. After pulling off the ultimate challenge a winning four straight to eliminate Boston, the Flyers chances after a loss tonight would be almost unthinkable.

The city is ready to rally around the home team, as fans all over the Philadelphia are decked out in orange and while, but it is up to the team to capture the win, and redirect the series.

The two players who will have the biggest impact on the game will be goalkeepers Michael Leighton and Antti Niemi. Through the first two games, Niemi has been tough for the Flyers to get past, recording 59 saves, while allowing six goals. Niemi will be put to the test again tonight as Philadelphia will look to put pressure on the net. Leighton on the other hand, was pulled in game 1, after allowing five goals, and then allowed only two goals in game 2, will hope to receive offense support from his team, while protecting the net.

The Stanley Cup finals between the Flyers has certainly not lacked excitement. From the confrontation between Chris Pronger and the Blackhawks Brian Eager, to the Philadelphia goalie situation, tonight’s game will be one step closer to an NHL Champion.

Of all people, Ben Eager leads Blackhawks past Flyers in Game 2

In his 2 ½ seasons with the Flyers Ben Eager was hardly a star. He was a tough guy, but hardly the most relevant player on the ice. The left winger scored just nine goals over that span, including posting a big zero in 27 games in 2007, before he was shipped off to the Blackhawks.

However, he now has a reason to be remembered by Philadelphia fans.

Eager scored what turned out to the game winner in Chicago’s 2-1 win that gives the Blackhawks a 2-0 lead in the Stanley Cup Finals. The goal came on a soft wrister late in the second period that gave his team a 2-0 lead. The Flyers fought back valiantly in the third period sending puck after puck toward the Chicago net, but could only manage a single tally.

So once again the Flyers are backed up against it. And once again we will see how they respond.

Here are a few other observations from the game:

- Michael Leighton checked out mentally and it cost the Flyers big time. Leighton was great for most of the night but after allowing the game’s first goal off the stick of Marion Hossa at 17:19 of the second, something must have shut off on his mind. There is no way a goalie that has helped his team get to the Stanley Cup Finals can let in that wrister by Eager just 17 seconds later. It ruined what had been a nice bounce back from a dreadful Game 1 showing. Soft goals happen from time to time, but this one really stings.

- The third period was one of the most exciting periods of hockey I have seen this postseason. The Flyers were all over the Blackhawks and it seemed almost a certainty that they would get the equalized over the frantic final 10 minutes. Antti Niemi stood on his head in a performance nothing short of spectacular.

- Tonight’s game was a treat for hockey fans who love a physical brand of hockey. Right from the first face-off, big hits were delivered. There was a ton of back-and-forth jabs with each team landing some big hits. It wasn’t quite the Broad Street Bullies but I was happy to see the players come out with an edge to them. Outside of a few cheap shots, the physical stuff was clean, which made it that much better. A lot of the physical play has been stripped from the NHL since the lockout and it was good to see a game that had a bit of old feel to it.

- Did anyone else catch the close-up the camera put on Chris Pronger when he was mimicking a Chicago player by opening and closing his hand to saying “you’re all talk”? The facial expression from Pronger was priceless.

-The Blackhawks are good a blocking shots – we get it. But, by the way, the Flyers are pretty good at that too. There was so much emphasis put on Chicago’s shot blocking despite the fact that the Flyers blocked just about the same number of shots. I’m sure both teams got an earful after all of the goals that found their way to the back of the net in Game 1 and both teams looked inspired to lay their bodies on the line.

- Game 3 is Wednesday and the Flyers need to win it. True, they came back from a 3-0 deficit already once this postseason, but the Blackhawks are too good to let a lead like that slip away. It will be one more gut check for a team that has had a dozen of them this year. We will find out if they can answer the bell one more time.

Leighton’s Role in Philadelphia

After the injury to Brian Boucher took him out of the lineup early in the playoffs, the Flyers looked to Michael Leighton to protect the net, and give the team a chance to win. Leighton exceeded expectations, putting together two shutouts, and helping them overcome a 3-0 series deficit, on the way to the NHL Finals.

But with rumors surrounding Boucher’s return, Leighton’s future is naturally in question. The soon-to-be free agent is waiting until the season is over to make any decisions, but hopes for stability in his next contract, whether or not it be with the Flyers.

I am confident that the Flyers will handle the situation well, and do whatever is bets for the team, but it is a little sad to think that the goaltender who has been such a large part of the team’s success, in the most crucial part of the season, could be with another team in 2011. it’s the way the business works, but hopefully Leighton can help bring Philadelphia a championship and cement his place in the team’s history.

The roof may come off the Wachovia Center

Those lucky enough to have tickets for tonight’s Game between the Flyers and Canadiens will be heading to the Wachovia Center with hopes of witnessing a remarkable event.

With one win, the Flyers will be heading to the Stanley Cup.

Expect the Wachovia Center to be shaking tonight as fans of this starving franchise anticipate a historic night. The Flyers lead the series 3-1 and are on the verge of heading West to Chicago to take on the Blackhawks, who swept the Sharks out of the Western Conference Finals. Everything seems to be pointing in the Flyers direction right now. Ian Laperriere and Jeff Carter returned in Game 4 and both played well enough to warrant significant ice time once again. Meanwhile, Michael Leighton continued to be the out-of-nowhere hero, posting his third shutout of the series. Right now the Canadiens have to be wondering what it will take to get a puck past him.

If this playoffs has taught us anything it’s that a series is not over until it’s over. Montreal taught that lesson to Washington, coming back from a 3-1 deficit in the first round and the Flyers taught that lesson to the bruins, erasing a 3-0 hole.

So technically Montreal does still have hope. I just don’t see them coming into Philly and beating the Flyers tonight in front of what is sure to be the most amped up Flyers crowd in years. I mean the roof might really come off tonight.

Sam Carchidi talks about the team’s Closer’s mentality in today’s Inquire. The players talk about not being over confident and understanding the task that is ahead. For us fans, we don’t have to have that type of mentality. We can dream about the Stanley Cup, because it is now so close – five wins away to be exact.

Every fan has felt the heartbreak from a team losing when it was so close. God knows Flyers fans have over the years. But tonight should be a night of celebration.

Tonight the Flyers can make the Wachovia Center becomes the happiest place on earth.

Canadiens fight back

Two wins are still in need after the Flyers could not keep their hot play going in Montreal, falling to the Canadiens, 5-1 in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals.

The loss is not stunning as Montreal has played well both at home and with its back against the wall all playoffs. The key to the series will be what happens in Game 4 on Saturday. The Flyers will put a stranglehold on the series with a win or the Canadiens will draw even and come back to Philly with some momentum on their side.

With so little going right Thursday night lets not reflect on that loss. Instead lets step back for a moment and admire what Michael Leighton and the team’s defense was able to do during the early part of this series.

Michael Leighton’s shutout streak lasted 172:05. That’s a ridiculous feat for any goalie let alone one that has been referred to a journeyman and a career backup. His story is the type the Hollywood makes movies about.

So what if he and the defense had one off night? I expect him to be right back in top form on Saturday as the Flyers go up 3-1 in the series.

Thursday night was nothing more than a small bump.

Welcome to Philadelphia

With the Flyers traveling to Montreal tonight for their match up with the Canadiens, one can only hope that our sports writers will be treated nicer. Apparently, when a 66 year old Montreal writer, who has been coming to Philadelphia for more than 20 years, parked at the Wachovia center to see the games, he had some trouble. Pat Hickey was not exactly welcomed by Flyers fans, finding his car (with a Quebec license plate) had been trashed and slashed. Although, having been in Montreal for their series against Pittsburgh, win or lose, the city goes crazy. Read more

Who wll be the Game 7 hero?

With apologies to Metallica there will be a new “Hero of the Day” by the end of the night.

As the Flyers and Bruins get set to engage in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, it’s only right to ask, Who will be tonight’s hero?

Truthfully it could be anyone.

It could be one of the stars such as Mike Richards, Simon Gagne, Marc Savard or Milan Lucic.

Or it could be a role player such as Dan Carcllo, Aaron Asham or Michael Ryder. Maybe it will be one of the goaltenders. Michael Leighton anyone?

So much is on the line tonight. If the Flyers win they will be just the third team in NHL history to come back from a 3-0 deficit . They will also host Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals as a No. 7 seed against No. 8 Montreal. If Boston wins, its struggles this week will be long forgotten.

But there can only be one winner, and history will remember one hero.

If I had to venture I guess I would go with Richards, who has been in the middle of everything this postseason. And how fitting it would be for the captain to complete the remarkable comeback. Who s your pick for the hero of the day?

While you think about it, enjoy this clip of the most memorable Game 7 moments in NHL history.

Flyers want to party like it’s 1942

1942 and 1975

Those are the only two years a team fell behind in an NHL playoff series and came back to win it.

Could 2009 be the next?

The Flyers continued their remarkable comeback quest defeating the Boston Bruins 2-1 to force a decisive Game 7 Friday in Boston. One week ago this series had virtually no chance of being entertaining as the Bruins built a 3-0. Flyers fans were looking for their team to save some face and win one game.

It looks like the players were looking for something a lot more.

It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly has changed. It looks and feels like everything has. The defense has been much stingier, keeping quality shots away from Brian Boucher and now Michael Leighton. (Leighton hadn’t allowed a goal in six periods, until the Bruins managed one with 1:00 left in regulation). Their penalty kill has ben phenominal, playing smart, yet agressive hockey. Danny Briere is playing like a man possessed and Mike Richards is showing why the team gave him a 10-year contract.

It all may not matter if the Flyers don’t complete the quest on Friday. If they lose Game 7 it will be a valiant effort, but none the less a shortcoming. Winning a fourth straight won’t be easy, especially on the road.

If they win — well, then we have history.

And the prize will be a home game to open the Eastern Conference playoffs against Montreal, who was equally stunning, knocking off the Penguins, one series after beating the Capitals.

These playoffs are showing that anything can happen and that’s a good thing for the Flyers.

Teams simply don’t craw out of 3-0 holes.

Of course that’s what was said in 1942 and 1975. In two days we will find out if 2009 is added to that list.

Flying high! Gagne helps force Game 6

Ladies and Gentleman, we have a series.

Simon Gagne continued his remarkable comeback with a pair of goals and  Villie Leino had a goal and an assist to lead the Flyers to a 4-0 win over the Bruins.

The win cut the Flyers deficit to 3-games-to-2 with Game Six coming in Philadelphia on Wednesday.

In case you missed the greatness that took place on the ice, here are a few of the Highlights.

— Who was that guy wearing No. 19 on Monday? Did we really have our first Scott Hartnell sighting of the season. Hartnell played his best hockey since — well I can’t even remember the last time he played well. He was active all night, scoring a goal and putting four shots on net. Him and Leino actually had a great bit of chemistry out there.

— In Leighton we trust? The goaltender carousel continued as Michael Leighton returned between the pipes, subbing in Brian Boucher who left the game at 4:35 of the second period. Leighton wasn’t tested often but when he was he came up with the saves — 14 in total.

— What a boost Gagne has been. One game after scoring the game-winner in his return from a foot injury Gagne buried the Bruins with the final two goals of the game. He also showed a little fire injecting himself into a scrum when a teammate was getting pounded on. Like Hartnell, this is the best I have seen Gagne play all season.

— Final Thought. Montreal beat Pittsburgh today to force a Game 7. If Montreal wins that game and the Flyers make history by winning two more against Boston, the Flyers will host Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.

About all you can say to that is WOW.

In case you missed it …

With all of the excitement in the NCAA Tournament this past weekend you may have missed some of the things that took place here in Philadelphia. Heck you may missed things because you had a family commitment or simply were out boozing with friends. We don’t discriminate here. Whatever the reason, Philly Sports Blogs has you covered. In what will become a Monday tradition, we unveil the first “In Case You Missed it.”

Because even though you are not always watching, we are.

Playing goalie for the Flyers might be the most dangerous position in all of sports right now. Johan Backlund, the latest victim of the injury bug, never even got a chance to show his worth. Making his first start in place of the injured Michael Leighton, who was in for the injured Ray Emery and the slumping Brian Boucher, Backlund left Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the Penguins in the second period after aggravating a groin injury. Taking Backlund’s place on the roster is Carter Sutton, who was called up from the Phantoms. Sutton only appeared in four games for the Phantoms, going 1-2-1 with a 2.70 goals-against average.

The Flyers salvaged the weekend. The news wasn’t all bad for the Orange and Black as they put together their best effort in the month of March with a 5-1 thrashing of the New Jersey Devils on Sunday. It was a much needed win as it moved the Flyers into a 6th place tie in the Eastern Conference with Montreal and four points ahead of 9th place Atlanta.

The Sixers (yes they are still playing) actually put together a nice win on Friday, defeating the Atlanta Hawks, 105-98. It was the second-straight win for Philadelphia, something that could be cause for celebration they way the team has played. One of the recent revelations has been Jason Kapono, who has stepped into the starting lineup and produced. He scored 14 points against Atlanta, and 10 in Wednesday’s win against the Bucks. Who knew that putting an actual shooter on the floor would force opposing teams to lengthen their defense, thus creating more space for the other Sixers on the floor?

Donovan McNabb is still here. Nothing more to be said.

— Ryan Madson will open the season as the Phillies closer. With Brad Lidge set to start the season on the DL, Charlie Manuel elected to go with Madson over the newly-acquired Danys Baez. Madson struggled in that role last year, saving 10 of 16 games and posting a 5.82 ERA, but gets a clean slate to work with. So what happens if Madson starts the season on fire saving 6 of 6 games? Does Lidge still come back and take over?Likely, but it sure will be fun debating about it.

So there’s your Philly weekend in a nutshell, just in case you missed it.

Jeff Carter out 3 to 4 weeks

The news keeps getting worse for Flyers fans.

Leading scorer Jeff Carter will miss 3-4 weeks with a fractured in his left foot, according to General manger Paul Holmgren in this article.

The loss is the latest blow for a team that has never found its flow this season. The Flyers are already without Ray Emery and Michael Leighton and will now have to make do without the assistant captain.

It seems so long ago that the Flyers were picked to win a Stanley Cup.

It just doesn’t feel like it’s meant to be for the Orange and Black this year.