A lot of analysts seem to be giving Philadelphia's Michael Leighton the edge over Chicago's Antti Niemi. Many cite Leighton's superior GAA (1.45 to Niemi's 2.33) and save percentage (.948 to Niemi's .921), and lone post-season loss as indications that he'll emerge victorious in the series. But those numbers aren't nearly as strong as they appear at first blush. Keep in mind that Leighton has started only seven games this post-season. One playoff loss to Niemi's four may look impressive, not when you remember that Niemi has played in more than twice as many games. Niemi has also faced a much higher level of competition than Leighton played against a Boston team that was torn apart by injuries. That made his job easier, especially when the Philadelphia defense was able to neutralize much of Boston's remaining power and prevent quality chances.
Then Leighton faced an exhausted Montreal team that was psychologically incapable of rallying after giving up the first goal. In addition, their inability to get bodies in front of the net meant that Leighton saw nearly everything coming at him. That's not to discredit the performances of strong forwards like Mike Cammalleri or Brian Gionta, but it is to say that Leighton once again was not facing a team laden with firepower performing at its top level.
Contrast that with Antti Niemi, who has posted a 12-4 record through sixteen games. Niemi neutralized a strong but largely defense-oriented Nashville team in the first round before facing down two offensive powerhouses in Vancouver and San Jose, which boasted such stars as Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Mikael Sammuelson, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatly, Devin Setoguchi, Joe Pavelski, and Dan Boyle. Niemi has played more games against a consistently higher level of offensive firepower than Leighton. Do you believe that Leighton would have seen the same results as Niemi if he had been forced to play against San Jose and Vancouver? Conversely, is there any doubt that Niemi could have shut down a crippled Boston and exhausted Montreal?
That's not to say that Leighton can't backstop his team to the Cup. It's just to say that to date, he has had the easier road, and that he is not as strong as his numbers would indicate. If the 'Hawks can get bodies in front of him, as they have against every other team they've played, then we'll see just how good he is.
But we already know how good Niemi is, and I believe that when all is said and done, he'll be the goaltender lifting Lord Stanley's Cup over his head.