BOSTON _ Bob Stanley, Jeff Reardon and Jonathan Papelbon are some of the guys who have been asked to close the door on opponents at Fenway Park.
Add Michael Leighton to the list.
Unlike those aforementioned Boston Red Sox relievers, of course, Leighton is the Flyers’ goalie, and he will attempt to continue his surprising hot streak when his team faces the Boston Bruins in Friday's 1 p.m. Winter Classic at Fenway.
It’s been a remarkable transformation for Leighton _ from a player who was shuffled to the AHL when he played in Carolina earlier this season, to the starting goalie in one of the NHL’s most ballyhooed games.
“I walked out when Boston was practicing to look around, and I couldn’t help smiling,” Leighton said after the Flyers’ practice Thursday at snowy Fenway Park. “It’s not something you see every day and I was pretty excited to be out there.”
In his last four starts, all wins, Leighton has a 1.48 goals-against average and a .952 save percentage.
Not bad for someone whom the Flyers claimed off re-entry waivers on Dec. 15 after Carolina tried to bring him back to the NHL.
“When I knew I was coming to Philly, I knew this was going to be part of it and it was one of the first things my wife and I talked about,” said Leighton, referring to the Winter Classic. “It’s definitely an honor to be here, and to get the start is a bonus.”
A light snow is in Friday's forecast.
“The ice is really good. They did a great job,” Leighton, 28, said. “But, with the snow out there, I think it’s tough for a goalie because the puck’s not always going to go where a guy’s shooting it _ and they’re also shooting snow at you. Hopefully during timeouts they can clear the snow off near the net and it’ll make it easier.
“Either that or I’ll build some snowmen (near the pipes) to kind of help me.”
Because of Leighton’s hot hand, coach Peter Laviolette gave him the nod over Brian Boucher, who has recovered from a lacerated right ring finger. It was a tough decision because Boucher has New England roots and used to attend baseball games at Fenway when he was a youngster.
“I had a conversation with Boosh and certainly expect him to feel disappointed about not getting to start when he is from the area here….and the magnitude of the day,” Laviolette said. “But the best explanation I could give him is if the shoe were on the other foot and you had won four in a row and done a pretty good job doing it, you would expect to be given the job again. So he understood.”
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Breakaways. Both teams are streaking. The Flyers have won four straight, while the Bruins have won four of their last five…..Three Bruins will be playing in their second outdoor NHL game: Michael Ryder, Steve Begin and Daniel Paille. No Flyers have played in an outdoor game…..The Flyers are 2-0 against the Bruins this season….Jeff Carter celebrates his 25th birthday Friday....Friday's game is on NBC.
_ Sam Carchidi