Alex Lyon, who was temporarily thrust into the the role as the Flyers’ No 1 goalie, is not your typical pro athlete.
For one, he is Ivy League-educated. Oh, and as part of his requirements to graduate from Yale with a degree in political science, he needs to write a senior thesis. The subject: global nuclear war.
“It’s always been something that interested me,” he said earlier this season.
But before he heads back to Yale, probably in the summer, Lyon has another mission: helping steer the surging Flyers to a high seeding in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
But Lyon’s No. 1 status will change because the Flyers acquired veteran Petr Mrazek from Detroit late Monday night. Mrazek will be the No. 1, but Lyon will still get action.
Injuries to Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth had briefly put the spotlight on the 25-year-old Lyon.
Lyon passed his first test Sunday. Relieving Neuvirth at the start of the second period, he stopped 25 of 26 shots and collected his first NHL win as the Flyers whipped the New York Rangers, 7-4, at Madison Square Garden.
Minutes after the game, the gregarious and talkative Lyon was asked if he had checked his phone for congratulatory texts.
“My dad is my social guy, so he’s probably got like a million,” he said with a smile, “and I [probably got] one from my sister or something like that.”
Lyon will still play a key role for the third-place Flyers, who have 23 games left and are within five points of first-place Washington in the Metropolitan Division. They are four points behind second-place Pittsburgh and have two games in hand on the Penguins.
The Flyers are six points ahead of the Islanders, who are out of a playoff spot.
“We’ve won games as a team, and we’ll continue to do that,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “Whoever is in the net for us will do a good job.”
Lyon, who made a spectacular glove save on J.T. Miller’s high-slot blast to protect a 5-4 lead late in the second period Sunday, said the biggest difference between the AHL and NHL isn’t the shooters’ abilities but the traffic in front of the net.
“There’s huge bodies” in the NHL, he said, pointing out that 6-foot-5, 217-pound Rangers center Kevin Hayes “is an oak tree out there. It’s tough to see around guys like that.”
In April 2016, the Flyers signed Lyon as a free agent out of Yale; the junior had drawn interest from 12 other NHL teams after leading the nation with a 1.64 goals-against average and finishing second with a .936 save percentage that season.
Lyon, a Minnesota native, led Yale to the NCAA East Regional semifinals that year.
At the time, Lyon said the looming free agency of goalies Steve Mason and Neuvirth in the summer of 2017 “absolutely” played a big role in his signing with the Flyers. As it turned out, Neuvirth re-signed with the Flyers, Mason took the free-agent route to Winnipeg, and the Orange and Black signed Elliott.
And now, Neuvirth and Elliott are sidelined at the most crucial time of the season.
Lyon downplayed being one of the Flyers’ top goalies.
“I can’t even think about that,” he said. “You just have to think about, literally, one shot at a time in practice. One day at a time. … This whole year has been up and down and topsy-turvy, so I’ve learned my lesson too many times to not get too far ahead of myself.”
Before Elliott was injured in Arizona on Feb. 10, the 6-1, 201-pound Lyon excelled with the Phantoms after a brief stint with the Flyers, saying his time in the NHL made him feel good about himself.
“And, to me, it’s all about confidence,” he said.