September 16, 2014
When Michael Leighton first walks into a Blackhawks dressing room next month and sees Patrick Kane, it’s not as if he’s going to break down and start sobbing on the spot. He is, however, expecting to hear once or twice about Kane’s Stanley Cup-winning goal in 2010, the one that improbably slid in between the back of Leighton’s right skate and the goalpost.
“There’s probably going to be a couple of jokes around the locker room,” Leighton said. “But I’m over it, and I’m looking forward to being part of the Blackhawks again.”
Leighton, the veteran goaltender who helped lead the Philadelphia Flyers to the Stanley Cup Final that season, is back with the Hawks, signing a one-year contract to provide some organizational depth behind entrenched starter Corey Crawford and clear-cut backup Antti Raanta. But while he was drafted by the Hawks in 1999 and played 43 games for them from 2002 to ’04, he’ll forever be a part of Chicago lore as an opponent.
Leighton said he knew Kane’s shot got under him, confirming that at least three people on the ice — Kane, Leighton and Patrick Sharp — knew the puck had gone in. But, no, Leighton doesn’t know where the long-lost puck is, either.
“I’ve heard there’s a lot of controversy about it,” Leighton said. “I don’t know where the puck is. I know I’ve been asked many times. The last I’ve seen, it was under the net. I kind of lifted the net up and kicked it. I know the referee or linesman was beside me, and that was it. That was the last thing on my mind, finding out where that puck was.”
As disappointing as the finish was, Leighton, 33, said he had nothing but positive memories of the 2009-10 season, which he said “made my career.” He went 8-3 that postseason, posting a record three shutouts in one series against the Canadiens in the Eastern Conference Final. In his career, he’s 35-41-14 with a 2.97 goals-against average and .901 save percentage. He’s on a two-way deal, meaning he’ll almost certainly start in Rockford. But he provides the Hawks with a safety net should Crawford or Raanta get hurt. The Hawks had been looking for such a player since Jason LaBarbera signed with the Ducks last month.
Leighton spent last season in the KHL, with 20 wins, a 1.74 GAA and a .934 save percentage. He expected to return to the KHL this season but said an illness (he wouldn’t elaborate) “knocked me out for a good four weeks.” He said he’ll be 100 percent by training camp next month and will do everything he can to return to the NHL.
“My goal is obviously to play better than [Raanta] and Crawford, if I can,” he said. “That’s all I can control. I’m going to go into camp in good shape and play my best, and if it doesn’t work out, then I’ll work hard in Rockford to get back to it. That’s my goal — I want to play in the NHL, I want to play for the Hawks.”