While the Washington Capitals fret over how a recent injury to their starting goaltender could affect their playoff chances, the Flyers – a potential first-round foe — don’t have that concern.
Each of the four goalies they have employed this season has backstopped at least a few victories in at least one of their endless stream of crucial games, and each has been out there for some of the more notorious failures, too.
“We know all four of our goalies,’’ defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said with a smile after a Saturday practice in advance of Sunday’s home game against the Bruins. “I guess you don’t say that very often. We know we can win with every goalie. Obviously it’s unfortunate some guys are injured. But it’s good to see our goaltending step up in a time of need. It’s been a next-guy-up mentality all year. It’s a good problem to have.’’
On Saturday, Alex Lyon was back from a brief stay in Allentown, recalled on an emergency basis. That’s because Michal Neuvirth was not on the ice for Saturday’s practice and is listed as day-to-day after apparently reinjuring his “lower body’’ while making a sprawling save Wednesday during his first action since Feb. 18.
Brian Elliott, who was placed on injured reserve with a core muscle injury a week before that, participated in a full practice Saturday for the first time in more than six weeks and said afterward, “I felt a lot better than expected. Hopefully, it keeps trending in that direction.’’
Said Flyers coach Dave Hakstol, “It’s nice to have him back on the ice.’’
“It’s an abnormal situation,’’ Hakstol said of having four goalies between the pipes this season. “Injuries are part of the game. Sometimes it seems as if you get one at a particular position, others follow. But I’ve never had it at the goaltender position. Yet that speaks to the quality and the depth at the goaltending position in the organization.
“Obviously the move by Hexy to bring Petr [Mrazek] in was an important one for us,” Hakstol said, referring to general manager Ron Hextall. `I think what it speaks most loudly to is that just everybody, including the goaltenders, doing their part — and as much as they can.’’
In Wednesday’s 2-1 victory over Colorado, Mrazek replaced the injured Neuvirth and almost single-handedly rescued his fatigued team from another late collapse, as the Avs spent all but a few seconds of the entire last five minutes inside the Flyers zone, firing shots his way. On St. Patrick’s Day, it was Lyon who turned the tide of a six-losses-in-seven-games stretch by stopping 25 of 27 shots in a much-needed 4-2 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes.
Before he underwent surgery on Feb. 12, Elliott was the catalyst for a 10-game unbeaten streak that allowed the Flyers to climb from the cellar and back into the mix — and now, into a likely playoff berth. And while Neuvirth has been injured and ineffective for much of the year, he did excel in mid-January victories over Toronto and New Jersey, and again in facing Vegas, New Jersey, and Columbus successively in mid-February as the Flyers grabbed five of a possible six points.
Mrazek is the expected starter in the matinee matchup with the Bruins on Sunday at the Wells Fargo Center – the Flyers’ last regular-season meeting against a playoff-bound team. Currently in the first wild-card spot with 92 points, the Flyers hold a six-point advantage over Florida, the last team out, and finish up with games against the Islanders, Hurricanes, and Rangers.
The Panthers have five games left to close that gap, but two are against the Bruins, who thumped them, 5-1, Saturday afternoon.
So while beating the Bruins on Sunday isn’t crucial, it would be great, Elliott said, if the Flyers could secure their playoff spot before the final game or two so he could try out that mended muscle in real action.
“Physically your body tells you what you can and cannot do,’’ Elliott said. “It’s not hard because it’s pretty vocal about things you can’t do. This was big. And we’ll see how it reacts next time I get on the ice. Hopefully it keeps trending better and better until I feel comfortable enough to get back in the net. But everything’s going well.’’