While goaltender Carter Hart was sidelined with a lower abdominal strain, the Flyers could have found themselves buried in the Eastern Conference playoff race when he was ready to return.

Instead, the team, led by backup goalie Brian Elliott, went 6-2-1 and stayed in the thick of the fascinating playoff hunt.

Hart, 21, returned to the lineup Monday against visiting Florida.

Elliott, 34, started seven of the nine games Hart missed, compiling a 5-1-1 record, a 2.06 goals-against average, and a .916 save percentage. Alex Lyon went 1-1 in the other two games, including a 6-3 win over gifted Colorado.

“There’s no doubt we needed Brian to step up, and Alex also stepped up,” coach Alain Vigneault said.

While Hart was sidelined, Elliott won at St. Louis, the defending Stanley Cup champion, and had victories against Los Angeles Pittsburgh (shutout), Detroit (shutout), and Washington. His loss was to New Jersey, 5-0.

“It’s not an easy position to be in, to be a backup goalie, and Moose is a pro,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “He kept himself ready and jumped right in there and did a heck of a job for us.”

Hart made his first start since a 6-5 shootout win over Boston on Jan. 13.

Farabee still out

Rookie left winger Joel Farabee, who missed the previous two games because of the flu, did not play Monday. He will probably return to the lineup Tuesday against the host New York Islanders, Vigneault said.

“Technically, he’s cleared [to play], but the bug that hit him was very severe,” Vigneault said before Monday’s game. “He lost quite a few pounds. He skated yesterday, skated today, so an extra day of recovery [will help]. ... If we need him to play, he’ll play (Tuesday).”

Farabee said he lost 10 pounds but gained about half of it back.

Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere did not practice Monday. He recently had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, missed 10 games, returned for one game, then sat out Saturday’s 7-2 win in Washington.

Gostisbehere’s knee was bothering him Monday, Vigneault said. The defenseman has been rumored to be on the trading block.

Breakaways

Elliott is expected to get the call Tuesday against the Isles in Brooklyn. … The Flyers averaged 3.4 goals in the nine games Hart missed. … Entering Monday, Claude Giroux needed one power-play assist to tie Bobby Clarke for the most in franchise history. He entered the game with 233 career assists on the power play. ... Lyon was sent back to the Phantoms. ... Former Flyer Chris Pronger, now Florida’s senior vice president of hockey operations, will have his No. 44 retired by the Blues next season.