PITTSBURGH – Stubborn might be too strong a word to describe Flyers coach Dave Hakstol’s approach to a bad loss in Game 1 of a best-of-seven playoff series against the Penguins.
But let’s go with it anyway.
Hakstol made it clear after Thursday’s practice that he wasn’t about to make changes just for the sake of change, even though the 19 men in Wednesday night’s debacle were humbled in a 7-0 loss at PPG Paints Arena.
It was the second-worst shutout loss in Flyers’ postseason history and the No. 1 worst beating in a Game 1.
Hakstol indicated after Game 1 he was leaning toward coming back with Brian Elliott in Game 2, even though the veteran netminder surrendered five goals on just 19 shots.
During practice on Thursday, possible positional substitutes such as Jordan Weal were still wearing the traditional pale blue “extras’’ jerseys.
That doesn’t mean Hakstol won’t do a complete 180 and start Petr Mrazek in goal and put Weal back in the lineup. But the odds seem against that.
Elliott, of course, is the headline situation here.
He played almost brilliantly through the first half of the season and was arguably team MVP. At one point, he was named an NHL “Star of the Week’’ (second and third) in back-to-back weeks.
But then he was injured in a shootout win at Arizona on Feb. 10, underwent core muscle surgery and only got back into the final two regular-season games before facing Wednesday night’s firing squad.
He didn’t look bad on all five goals. . .after all, the Flyers let Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin run around like kids on a playground.
Still, there’s a proven playoff performer like Mrazek waiting in the wings and there’s also Michal Neuvirth, who practiced for a third straight day as he recovers from a groin injury, “almost ready’’ (his words) to return.
“I fully stand by what I said last night (about leaning toward Elliott),’’ Hakstol said at a mid-day press briefing. “That was how I felt.’’
There have been questions about Elliott’s lateral movement. It looked like several of Pittsburgh’s goals beat him when he was a tad slow moving over in his crease.
“Moose (Elliott) is someone I’ve watched pretty close in practice through the short three games he’s been back,’’ Hakstol said. “I think he’s seeing the puck well.
“We have to do a better job in front of him. I don’t care who is in net, we have to do a better job in front of our goaltender. He’s got to do his part, provide the saves for us. . .and hand-in-hand, we have to do a better job for him.’’
Privately, Elliott knows he’s not quite back to mid-season form just yet. But a 90-percent Elliott might still be better than Mrazek or the health-challenged Neuvirth.
Elliott has a lot of pride. You can be sure he wants to get back in there and show the critics he’s better than what he showed on Wednesday.
“I felt good (Thursday), I felt confident, I felt big (in net),’’ said Elliott, who claimed he wasn’t aware of Hakstol’s post-game endorsement of his recent efforts. “That’s all I can do.’’
Elliott entered Wednesday night action having played in 41 Stanley Cup playoff games spanning 10 years, so no question he’s going to tap that knowledge in an attempt to square the series at 1-1 heading back to Philadelphia for Sunday night’s game.
“For sure,’’ he said. “You take a little bit of something from each playoff series that you’ve played. Everybody’s had help along the way. You take those little bits and pieces and you have those in your back pocket.’’
You might see a more aggressive Elliott out there, too.
“You can’t be a victim out there,’’ he said. “Be a little bit of the aggressor. Have that battle mentality. There’s no giveup. There’s no feeling sorry for yourself. Like everybody says, go out there and battle.’’
Hakstol apparently still believes the players he had out there on Wednesday can get the job done when the series resumes here on Friday night.
And, unless he has something up his sleeve, he might end up going with the same line combinations from Game 1, too.
“First, I’m not ready to talk about any lineup decisions for tomorrow as of yet,’’ Hakstol said. “Regardless of what our combinations were in practice. We may or may not make lineup changes going into tomorrow’s game.
“Today’s practice was more about just getting focused in on a number of areas that we wanted to clean up and be sharper in our execution.’’
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