NEW YORK — Thanks to two-plus months of excellence, the Flyers have solidified their grasp of an Eastern Conference playoff spot.
But that spot could be precarious after another injury to one of their top goalies.
Michal Neuvirth, who had been 3-0-1 since replacing the injured Brian Elliott on Feb. 10, had to leave Sunday’s game against the New York Rangers after the end of the first period. The Flyers said he had a lower-body injury, and they won’t know how much time he will miss until at least Monday.
Rookie Alex Lyon relieved Neuvirth and stopped 25 of 26 shots, keying the Flyers’ 7-4 win at Madison Square Garden.
Elliott is expected to be sidelined for at least five weeks with an abdominal injury, so Flyers general manager Ron Hextall will be on the phones looking for a veteran goalie. Buffalo’s Robin Lehner and Chad Johnson, Arizona’s Antti Raanta, Toronto minor-leaguer Calvin Pickard, and Vancouver’s Anders Nilsson are among the goalies Hextall may pursue before the Feb. 26 trade deadline.
Lyon, 25, a former Yale standout who played solidly with the AHL’s Phantoms this season, may be the No. 1 goaltender for a while.
“That could be the case. [Or] maybe they trade for two guys and I’m sent down to Allentown tomorrow,” Lyon said after his first NHL win. “In professional hockey, in professional sports in general, you just don’t know. So I’m going to take confidence from that [victory]. I’ve said it all along: I’m just taking it one day at a time and working as hard as I can. That’s the best approach.”
Neuvirth, who has a long history of injuries, got up slowly after trying to stop a two-on-one Rangers rush that ended with Mats Zuccarello scoring to knot the game at 3-3 with 2 minutes, 39 seconds left in the first.
Lyon wasn’t happy with his previous two appearances with the Flyers — he took a 3.93 goals-against average and an .860 save percentage into the game — but he was outstanding Sunday.
With the Phantoms this season, Lyon was their No. 1 goalie, going 15-8-2 with a 2.83 GAA and a .911 save percentage.
Lyon was familiar with Madison Square Garden, having won all three games he played there with Yale against Harvard.
“I’ve yet to lose in Madison Square, knock on wood,” he said with a smile. “I actually did take some comfort in that. I’ve been here. I’ve won here, and you know the surroundings a bit.”
Assuming Neuvirth is sidelined, the Flyers will probably recall Dustin Tokarski from the Phantoms to be Lyon’s backup. Tokarski, 28, has NHL experience — he played well for Montreal in the 2014 playoffs — and he has a 2.94 GAA and a .907 save percentage in 27 AHL games this season.
Tokarski has been much sharper in recent games.
“Throughout the year, your goal is to slowly work your way up,” he said after Saturday’s 3-2 shootout loss to Hartford in Allentown. “I’m feeling better … and playing more helps. I’m getting the opportunity.”
Added Tokarski: “My goal is always to get back [to the NHL], and if it’s in the cards and I get the opportunity, I’ll be ready to go, but right now I’m focusing on trying to help this team.”
Tokarski has played in 34 NHL games in his career, which has included stops in Tampa Bay, Montreal, and Anaheim. In those games, he was 10-12-5 with seven no-decisions and had a 2.84 goals-against average and a .904 save percentage.
The 6-foot, 205-pound Tokarski was particularly impressive in the 2014 playoffs when he replaced the injured Carey Price and had a 2.60 GAA and a .916 save percentage in five games against the Rangers.
“I’ve played in some high-pressured situations and succeeded at it, and my goal is to get back there and succeed again,” he said.
Sean Couturier’s line collected two goals and five assists. … The Flyers scored seven goals against the Rangers for the first time since Nov. 11, 1992, at the Spectrum. It was the first time they scored seven at Madison Square Garden since 1981. … Nolan Patrick won 12 of 16 faceoffs (75 percent). … The Flyers have not allowed a power-play opportunity to an opponent in back-to-back games, which has not happened at least since the NHL began tracking game-by-game PP chances in 1977.