When it comes to needing a substitute player, you couldn’t find a much better candidate than someone like Shayne Gostisbehere.
After all, Gostisbehere has been a standout regular for much of his career with the Flyers and if not for a pair of knee surgeries this year, probably would have been a mainstay in the lineup for the Montreal series.
The Florida native sat out the past few games as the Flyers tried to buckle down on the defensive side of the puck but will return to action on Friday night due to the one-game suspension of Matt Niskanen, who was penalized for the cross-checking of Montreal’s Brendan Gallagher in Game 5.
Head coach Alain Vigneault declined to disclose on which pairing Gostisbehere might play but he was working with Justin Braun on a third tandem prior to sitting out.
The Flyers, leading the best-of-seven series by a 3-2 margin, will try for a second time to close out the Canadiens in Game 6 at Scotiabank Arena, 7 p.m., in Toronto.
Gostisbehere, 27, declared himself ready to play when he participated earlier in the series. Vigneault appreciates the depth of the Flyers’ roster.
“You know, in the games that we’ve used him, he’s played well,’’ Vigneault said in a midday Zoom call. “He’s had good jump.
“There’s no doubt, coming back from the surgeries that he did set him back a little bit. But he put in a lot of time, put in a lot of effort. He’s had a real good attitude, a team-first attitude. He’s getting a chance to play and I’m confident that he’ll do well for us.’’
Vigneault said it would be a “staff decision’’ as to where Gostisbehere might fit. So that raised speculation as to where Braun’s regular partner, Robert Hagg, might wind up.
On paper, one possible spot might be in the vacancy left open by Niskanen alongside Ivan Provorov. Vigneault probably wouldn’t break up the highly successful pairing of Phil Myers and Travis Sanheim.
If Hagg does move up, so will his minutes, probably from the 15 range to upwards of 20. Vigneault was asked if Hagg can still be his usual physical force with an increased workload.
“I would definitely see the effort, whether he plays 10 or 20,’’ Vigneault said. “He’s the type of individual who always competes and works extremely hard.
“He’s been a good defenseman for us. Anytime we’ve used him he’s played to his potential. We need a strong game from our whole group.’’
Losing a vet like Niskanen could diminish the back line somewhat.
“That veteran presence is always a key component to the playoffs,’’ Vigneault said. “We’re going to have to do it by committee. But at the end of day, we have strong leadership in this group.’’
>No regrets on Gallagher comments
After Game 5, Vigneault assessed the Niskanen hit on Gallagher and suggested that initially the damage didn’t look that bad. Gallagher stayed in the game and continued to bark at officials and the Flyers’ bench.
A day later, a CT scan revealed Gallagher requires surgery for a broken jaw and will not return for this series.
Montreal GM Marc Bergevin said he was “disappointed’’ with Vigneault’s remarks but the coach refused to back down on Friday.
“You don’t like to see any players get injured,’’ Vigneault said. “At the end of the day, I can only state the facts. The fact was, Gallagher got up and his mouth didn’t shut up for at least five minutes, to the referees, the linesmen, to our bench.
“So he didn’t look like he was hurt (other than a cut). I believe if Montreal medical personnel thought it was something real serious, they probably would have taken him off and brought him inside. I can only state the facts and what I was watching. . .a guy who kept on talking. Didn’t seem like he was hurt.’’
>Leads of 3-1 no guarantee
The Flyers took a 3-1 lead in this series before suffering a 5-3 setback in Game 5. With Montreal closing the gap, fans might be wondering just how safe a 3-1 edge really is.
Well, the record book shows the Flyers have blown a 3-1 lead only twice in their history: First, in 1988, when they came within a win of closing out the Washington Capitals in the first round, only to have the D.C. boys come back to hand the Flyers three straight losses, the last a painful overtime defeat, which cost head coach Mike Keenan his job.
The other took place in the 2000 Eastern Conference finals. Once again, the Flyers looked strong in garnering three wins in the first four games. But the New Jersey Devils came roaring back, capped by the infamous Scott Stevens hit on Eric Lindros in Game 7. The Devils went on to win the Stanley Cup.