(Photo: Gary Hershorn/Edmonton Journal)
In overtime of Game 6 in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final, only one person knew the game-winning goal had been scored– the shooter, Chicago’s Patrick Kane, who threw up his gloves for a celebration 49 years in the making.
The shot, from such an incredible angle, went past Philadelphia’s former goalie, Michael Leighton.
Now, Leighton will have a chance to stop plenty of Kane’s shots — at practice. Leighton, 33, from Petrolia Ontario, originally drafted (165th overall/sixth round) by Chicago in 1999, is returning to the Windy City after a globe-spanning career.
With Corey Crawford as a starter, Antti Raanta a skilled backup, and Jason LaBarbera (the Rockford IceHogs’ starter, previously pulled up in case Raanta needed a backup) signing with the Anaheim Ducks, Leighton will most likely start in Rockford as well.
“It’s a two-way contract so my understanding is I’m going to be starting in Rockford,” Leighton told the Chicago Tribune. “In case (of) an injury or anything else, an emergency, I’ll be the call-up guy. For me, it’s just go down and play in Rockford. Obviously I’d like to get called up and play in Chicago but my mindset is to play my best hockey in Rockford for right now.”
Crawford came off a great 2013-14 season and Raanta is solid between the pipes, so filling in the spot they’d need by not re-signing veteran and injury-prone netminder Nikolai Khabibulin became a necessity for the Blackhawks. Keeping the cap hit low, but finding someone with pro experience (though not so much that he’ll fall down and fail to get back up) is a fine game plan for Chicago.
Leighton was the first goalie in Blackhawks’ franchise history to record a shutout in his debut Jan. 8, 2003. He played in 42 games during two seasons in Chicago, where he had a 2.81 goals against average and a .901 save percentage.
In portions of eight seasons with Chicago, the Nashville Predators, Philadelphia Flyers, and Carolina Hurricanes, Leighton earned a 2.97 goals against average and a .901 save percentage playing 105 regular season games.
He has an 8-4 record in 16 Stanley Cup Playoff games and currently holds the NHL record for most shutouts in a postseason series (three versus Montreal in the 2010 Eastern Conference Final).
According to the Chicago Blackhawks Web site, Leighton has also notched 171 victories (171-144-29) in 354 career American Hockey League tilts spanning 10 seasons with the Norfolk Admirals (2001-05), Rochester Americans (2005-06), Portland Pirates (2006-07), Philadelphia Phantoms (2006-07), Albany River Rats (2007-08) and Adirondack Phantoms (2010-2013).
Leighton returns to Chicago from the KHL’s Donbass Donstsk, where he and another netminder set a team record for the fewest regular season goals allowed, leading the team to the playoffs’ second round, according to the Chicago Tribune, with a 1.74 goals against average and a .934 save percentage.
If Leighton had any hangups over 2010, he’s let them go. Or, he will have to before he skates under that banner to the sea of red. Welcome back.