Forget, for the moment, the hype surrounding Saturday night’s outdoor game between the Flyers and Penguins at Lincoln Financial Field.
Forget, too, that in a surprise move, veteran goalie Brian “Moose” Elliott will get the start over Carter Hart, the rookie who is the main reason the Flyers climbed back into the playoff hunt.
Whether the games are played in a football stadium with 70,000 screaming fans or in a conventional arena, the Flyers, quite simply, need points. Lots of points.
No matter which goalie is in the nets.
“Every game is a must-win with the situation we’re in,” said center Sean Couturier, aware of the grim numbers facing his team: Entering Friday, the Flyers were seven points out of a playoff spot with 21 games remaining. They are eight points behind the Penguins.
Elliott will get the chance to earn two points Saturday. He missed more than three months with an apparent core-muscle injury and returned to action this week, relieving Hart when he fell into early 3-0 deficits against Tampa Bay and Montreal.
In those two games, Elliott allowed three goals in about 98 minutes and stopped 51 of 54 shots.
Right winger Jake Voracek said, "Carter is the reason we are in the spot we’re in. ... A little rest won’t hurt him, and Moose has been around for a long time.”
Elliott said Gordon had a “tough decision to make" when he selected his starter, and that he didn’t envy him for having to choose.
“For me, you just have to put all these things to the side and try to enjoy the moment,” said Elliott, who has a 2.51 goals-against average and .916 save percentage in 16 games.
Hart (2.79 GAA, .917 save percentage) allowed six goals on 18 shots over the last two games and was pulled after 10-plus minutes in each loss.
“If this game was at any other time that I’ve been in this situation” -- where a goaltender was struggling -- “it would have been a no-brainer and we would have gone back to whoever the other goalie was,” Gordon said.
But because it’s on a big stage, he thought long and hard before selecting Elliott.
“If I had to go with my heart -- no pun intended -- the easiest decision is to pick Carter," Gordon said. "I think the world of him. I’ve been so impressed with how he’s been able to come up here and play, and it really bothered me to have to make the final decision to not play him.”
Elliott’s two strong relief appearances factored into the decision, he said.
Gordon, who said his decision “is probably not popular” with the fans, called it the “biggest game of the year” and said going with Elliott was what was “best for the team, and that goes with a lot of conversations I had with everybody.”
Said Hart: “For sure, you want to play every game. It’s a crucial two points for us and the last two games I haven’t been at my best. Brian’s done a good job coming in in relief. It is what it is. You can’t control that, but what you can control is how you respond to it. It’s disappointing, but you have to approach it the right way and can’t let it set you back.”
“We have a lot of hockey left and ... it’s just one game," Hart added. "I know it’s an outdoor game and it would be a really good experience, but at the end of the day, we just want to make the playoffs.”
After a 12-1-1 run, the Flyers have lost two straight, both in convincing fashion. A leaky defense and a not-so-sharp Hart contributed to the defeats.
More grim numbers: The Flyers are 5-9-1 against Metropolitan opponents. They have a winning record against every other division. Thirteen of the Flyers’ 21 remaining games are against Metro teams, most of which they are chasing for a playoff spot.
And, so, forget Saturday’s national stage, the Flyers desperately need a regulation win. Period.
“We need to figure it out quick because there’s not a lot of games left,” captain Claude Giroux said. "We need to find a way to deal with big games.”
Games against the arch-rival Penguins carry extra juice.
“It’s important for us to get off to a good start and get the crowd behind us and take it from there,” right winger Wayne Simmonds said.