"We need to put the best team on the ice each night that gives us the best chance to win," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said Monday, and for once at least that's not all in his coach's hands. Because the best the Flyers have looked this season has been when Brian Elliott has manned their net, and the only avenue to finding out if he is recovered enough from his core muscle injury to backstop their playoff run is to test him at some point over the final three games of the regular season.
Elliott again practiced with the team Monday as it prepared for Tuesday's game against the Islanders in Brooklyn, a game that could conceivably clinch one of the eight playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. Petr Mrazek is expected to get the start, and in a weird twist, his play may dictate whether Elliott gets some actual game work before the regular season ends Saturday against the Rangers.
Any win, coupled with any Florida loss in any of the Panthers' remaining games, and the Flyers would return to the playoffs after a one-year absence. "First goal on the list is to become a playoff team," said coach Dave Hakstol. "We're not there yet, we haven't completed that yet. We're just working toward the next two points."
Should they secure that spot Tuesday, the next order of business would be settling their clouded goaltending. Michal Neuvirth is day-to-day, Mrazek has been hit or miss, and Alex Lyon seems to be a guy they continue to view as their emergency option.
With Elliott as their primary netminder over December, January, and February, the Flyers played like an elite team. It has been a bumpy ride since — Neuvirth following Elliott with a lower-body injury of his own, Mrazek struggling after a nice start with his new team, Lyon earning points with his efforts but seemingly not the coach's confidence.
So, the GM was asked Monday, would the Flyers be willing to risk an opportunity to grab a higher seed in order to shake some of the rust Elliott has accrued after almost seven weeks on the shelf?
"We can't even speculate on that," Hextall said. "We need to put the best team on the ice each night that gives us the best a chance to win. If we clinch it becomes a little bit different, but you still have positioning there.
"Certainly it's going to be a conversation. He's practiced hard. He feels pretty good, so… it's no different than getting another player in who has been out. If we can get him in, great. But it's got to be best for the team."