PHILADELPHIA | Michael Leighton is for real — and he has all those zeros to prove it.
Leighton stopped 30 shots and recorded his second straight shutout, and the Philadelphia Flyers beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-0 on Tuesday night to take a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.
“We’re in a great situation,” Leighton said. “I’m not trying to think so much.”
His season was considered over once he went down with an ankle injury in mid-March. Now, Leighton has the Flyers two wins away from their first Stanley Cup finals appearance since 1997.
Leighton is the first Flyers goalie to record consecutive playoff shutouts since Bernie Parent in 1975. His shutout streak of 165:50 is the second-longest in team history behind Brian Boucher’s 184:45 in its run to the East finals in 2000.
Danny Briere and Simon Gagne scored power-play goals, and Ville Leino also scored for the Flyers.
“We all feel like we haven’t played our best games yet,” Briere said. “We still have more in the tank.”
The Flyers have won six straight postseason games and look to keep it going in Game 3 on Thursday at Montreal.
The Flyers have scored 13 straight goals in the postseason since trailing 3-0 in Game 7 against Boston in the East semifinals. Leighton has been impeccable since taking over for an injured Boucher in Game 5 of the semis.
The Flyers haven’t won the Stanley Cup since the second of their consecutive championships in 1975.
Leighton was tested from the opening faceoff as the Canadiens outplayed the Flyers most of the first two periods.
He turned away a ferocious slapshot from P.K. Subban in the first period to set an early tone of denial. Leighton made three quick stops in about a minute on a Montreal offense treating the game like shooting practice. When the puck hurled through the air on the last one, the Flyers crowd erupted and gave Leighton a standing ovation.
“Michael Leighton saved our game tonight in the first period,” coach Peter Laviolette said.
Leighton’s emergence was as timely as Gagne’s return. He rushed back to the lineup in the semifinals after a broken toe and scored his sixth goal in six games since then.
His goal late in the second period gave the Flyers a 2-0 lead — and a badly needed cushion. The Canadiens outshot the Flyers 16-6 in the first period and the Flyers didn’t reach double-digits in shots until mid-second.
Montreal goalie Jaroslav Halak played the entire game after getting yanked in Philadelphia’s 6-0 Game 1 win.
“We had good chances, we played a much better game,” Montreal coach Jacques Martin said.
Halak was shaken early when Briere scored his ninth goal of the postseason 4:16 into the game. He took a beautiful backhand feed from Claude Giroux and fired from the slot to beat Halak for a 1-0 lead.
Briere had little explanation for his sizzling postseason scoring streak.
“I’m just trying to ride the wave,” he said.
Gagne gave the Flyers an emotional lift in the second. He dropped to his knees behind the net fighting for the puck then worked it around to Leino who fired on Halak. Gagne sneaked around for the side to knock in the rebound.
“I think I fell just before that. That’s why I was right there when the puck came right on my blade,” Gagne said. “I just had to push it in.”
Leino capped the scoring with a high wrister in the third.
The Canadiens hope a return home can be their spark.
“You never want to start out that way,” Montreal forward Brian Gionta said. “We are going home and hopefully we can build on that momentum.”
The Flyers are in good shape — but they know the series isn’t over yet. They rallied from a 3-0 deficit to eliminate Boston. They were just the third team in NHL history to win a round after trailing 3-0.
Montreal has proved it can play from behind, too, in these playoffs. The Canadiens erased a 3-1 series deficit in the first round, and were down 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 in the second.
“Both teams know that can go away quick,” Briere said. “We came back, Montreal came back a couple of times. We’re not going to sit back. We saw what we were able to do to Boston.”
The Flyers had the arena rocking with a pregame show that took fans on a journey from their last game of the regular season, a shootout win that clinched a playoff spot, to Gagne’s improbable return to the Game 7 win over the Bruins.
Now they can add Leighton’s back-to-back shutouts to the highlight reel.
“The shutout means a lot, but the win means a lot more,” Leighton said.
NOTES: The Flyers have won six straight playoff games for the first time since 1995. … The Flyers had lost both Game 2s this postseason. … Montreal dropped to 14-2 in Eastern Conference final Game 2s.