PHILADELPHIA – Maybe he wasn’t quite ready yet but is a 90 percent Brian Elliott better than starting a completely healthy Petr Mrazek or Alex Lyon?
Well, apparently yes, although there were times during Thursday night’s game when Flyers coach Dave Hakstol must have had some second thoughts about starting a goalie who had not played in more than seven weeks.
But ultimately, Elliott played well enough to secure a 4-3 win at the Wells Fargo Center, bringing the Flyers to the brink of a playoff spot.
Regardless of what the Florida Panthers do in their final two games, the Flyers need just one point against the New York Rangers on Saturday to make the post-season.
Elliott admitted it took a little time to shake off the rust from seven weeks off due to core muscle surgery but, let’s face it, he’s one of the team leaders and it only made sense to throw him in there.
“I thought he did the job at the end of the day,’’ Hakstol said. “That’s a tough style of game to play when you haven’t played in seven-plus weeks.
“I think there were two or three saves as you go throughout the game that were big saves that Brian made.’’
Elliott did look particularly shaky on a goal by Sebastian Aho from a wide angle with 6:19 to play.
“I don’t know what happened on the third one (by Aho),’’ Hakstol said. “I thought that was a strange one. I thought he battled hard and I thought the players battled hard for him.’’
But why, in one of the biggest games of the season, take a chance on someone who had not played in nearly two months?
“I thought they (the players) were excited to have him back in the net,’’ Hakstol said. “If you don’t expect to see a little bit of rust after he’s been out for that length of time, you’re probably not being realistic.’’
And his leadership?
“He was ready to go, he put himself in that position,’’ Hakstol said. “He’s our guy. He’s a big reason why we have the opportunity to be in control of our own destiny. Believe me, that’s nothing against Mrazek or Lyon. He (Elliott) has done a hell of a job for us. He’s our No. 1 guy and he was ready to go.’’
Elliott was realistic about what he expected of himself for this game.
“It’s almost like opening night jitters again, get back into it,’’ he said. “After the first period, I felt like I settled in there a little bit.
“It’s always tough coming back. It’s always hard to replicate a game in practice. You do things, you’re out of breath more than in practice. It’s awesome to get a win out of it.’’
The Aho goal kind of caught him by surprise. He looked a bit off-balance.
“I leaned a little too far into the post and that levered my pad off the ice,’’ he explained. “Not something you want to happen, especially when G (Claude Giroux) scores that big goal, but we responded well. Jake (Voracek) came down and ripped it. I knew the next shot coming I wasn’t letting in.’’
It was a long road back with a lot of rehab but worth the trouble. He didn’t want to wait any longer.
“It’s kind of just jump in or don’t,’’ he said. “This is what you play for all year long. I worked really hard. I rehabbed a lot and tried to get back.
“Luckily the guys pulled it out there at the end for me. It’s big win for us. Happy to get in there, especially in a big game. Florida winning just puts that much more pressure on the last game here.’’