With Carter Hart sidelined by a lower abdominal strain, Brian Elliott not only has kept the Flyers afloat, but he also has thrived.
So has the team.
The veteran goalie is 4-0-1 with a 1.58 goals-against average and .935 save percentage in his five starts since Hart went out of the lineup.
Hart still isn’t ready to return — he is listed as day to day — so Elliott will get the call Thursday against New Jersey at the Wells Fargo Center.
“He’s playing with a lot of confidence; he’s making the big saves at the right times, which is permitting our guys to play with confidence and make plays," coach Alain Vigneault said after practice Wednesday in Voorhees. "We need him to continue. He’s been playing real well, and when I needed Alex [Lyon] to come in against Colorado, he was a difference-maker.
“A big part of any team’s success,” Vigneault added, “starts with goaltending, and we’re getting some solid goaltending.”
The Flyers, who are on a 6-1-1 spurt, entered Wednesday 10th in the league defensively, allowing 2.87 goals per game. They finished 29th last year, surrendering 3.41 goals per game.
Elliott praised the all-around defensive work of the other five players on the ice, including “the emergency guy in the slot who takes care of anything that breaks down, from the corners to rebounds [in front].
“We’re paying really good attention to details, and I think details are what makes the difference in this league,” said Elliott, who had shutouts in two of his last three starts. “On any given day, you can have good or bad ones, and we’ve been having good ones lately.”
Adding veterans such as center Kevin Hayes and defenseman Matt Niskanen has been a key to the Flyers’ success, Elliott said.
“They don’t get too high, they don’t get too low — except when Hayes is mic’d up,” he said with a smile about a player who likes to ham it up.
Niskanen, 33, who won a Stanley Cup with Washington in 2018, has given the defense stability.
“That’s why they call him ‘Steady Eddie,’ ” Elliott said.
Niskanen has also helped the development of his defensive partner, Ivan Provorov.
“He’s got tons of experience and doesn’t make many mistakes,” said Provorov, who will play in his 300th straight game Thursday. “It’s been easy; it’s been fun. It also helps me to have a righty in neutral-zone stuff and offensive-zone stuff. He can zip the puck across faster and a little bit easier. I think overall we have a good chemistry.”
Elliott’s two previous seasons were interrupted by injuries. Now he’s healthy and enjoying the playoff drive and playing a huge role in it.
“Every day, you have to take care of business, have to take care of your body,” said Elliott, who will turn 35 on April 9. “It’s fun to be able to play and be able to contribute.”
As for Hart, he practiced with the team again Wednesday, but Vigneault said he wasn’t ready to return. Likely scenario: Elliott starts Thursday and Saturday in Washington, and Hart returns Monday against visiting Florida.
“Things feel like they’re getting better,” Hart said, adding you “have to look at the long term” and can’t rush the return.