CHICAGO (AP) — Michael Leighton had become the bearded face of the Philadelphia Flyers with his stellar goaltending in their remarkable playoff run.
But Leighton left his first Stanley Cup finals game early with the look of frustration, leaving his Flyers teammates blaming themselves for the way they protected the ice in front of him.
Leighton gave up five goals on 20 shots and was pulled for Brian Boucher late in the second period, a rough start for the Flyers en route to a 6-5 loss in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals on Saturday night.
"A lot of those goals weren't his fault," forward Scott Hartnell said. "They were going right under the bar. One-timers from the slot. We've got to do a better job getting pucks on sticks and not making our goalies try to make the unbelievable saves all the time."
Boucher actually gave up the winner in this wild, back-and-forth game, when a tough-angle shot by Tomas Kopecky slid around the goalie's stick with 11:35 left and sent the United Center crowd into an earsplitting frenzy.
"We were just too loose in front of the net," coach Peter Laviolette said. "We've got to be better defensively than what we were. We've got to tighten up right in front of goal."
On the same night Phillies ace Roy Halladay gave his sports-crazy city a perfect game to cheer about, Leighton and the Flyers were, well, anything but perfect.
Though the goals weren't all his fault, Leighton lost leads of 1-0, 3-2 and 4-3 before finally being pulled, his incredible shutout streak sure seeming like a long time ago.
Leighton, for his part, didn't sound too disappointed.
"It's like every shot they scored on. I don't think any of them were awful goals or embarrassing goals," he said. "It's just one of those things."
Leighton had not spoken to Laviolette yet when he was interviewed by reporters in the locker room.
"Maybe Peter thought it would shake the team up or 'Boosh' would go in and do a better job," Leighton said. "We seemed to respond a little bit better and play better."
It was Boucher's sprained knee in the conference semifinals that gave Leighton this opportunity in the first place, after being held off the postseason roster while recovering from an ankle injury.
Leighton stepped in to finish the epic 0-3 series comeback against Boston and then spurred the Flyers past Montreal in the conference finals to get here, going 6-1 and turning aside 95 percent of the shots he faced after taking over. That included a career-changing stretch in which he didn't give up a goal for nearly 173 minutes of ice time.
This, though, wasn't the way he hoped to play against the team that once drafted him. This wasn't the way his Flyers teammates wanted to support him in his first Stanley Cup finals game, either.
The Flyers were first to score, but Leighton kept the lead for just 68 seconds. That goal, he said, was the one he regretted the most. He lost the puck for a precious second or two, and upon relocation he saw it was already in the slot — after a heady backhanded pass from Marian Hossa to Troy Brouwer.
By the time he moved across the crease, it was too late.
"It's tough, but we know all around defensively we didn't have a good game," Leighton said. "In order to beat this team we've got to be better defensively, and I've got to be better. I've got to make some saves at key times, and it just didn't go our way."
Dave Bolland's early short-handed score for the Blackhawks was lost in the five-goal flurry of the highest-scoring first period in the finals since 1982, but it loomed large later as another preventable mistake by the Flyers.
Braydon Coburn, part of a solid second unit on Philly's blue line, was bull-rushed by Bolland and lost the puck to give up a costly breakaway that Leighton couldn't stop. That gave the Hawks a 2-1 edge and though the Flyers responded, Leighton and finally Boucher kept surrendering goals.
The Flyers' top line of Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne was on the ice for Bolland's goal, and this trio didn't give them much in this game. Game 2 at the United Center is set for Monday night, and they'll need more then, both on offense and in goal.
"We're looking for a better effort from everybody, from the goalies to the 'D' to us forwards coming back in the slot," Hartnell said.
Kris Versteeg shot his own rebound in off Leighton's shoulder to tie the game at 4. Then came Brouwer's second goal for the Blackhawks, the knockout for Leighton with 4:42 remaining in the middle frame.
Leighton tilted his mask back, skating to the boards and flipping his stick back and forth as he wiped his chin with his blocker and reached for the water bottle. His mouth partially open, Leighton looked a little bewildered as if he were wondering, "How did this happen?" while Laviolette sent Boucher in to relieve him.
"We left too many point-blank opportunities," the coach said afterward. He refused to single out Leighton for the loss.
"Tonight, we lost as a team," he said.