WASHINGTON — Remember last year when injuries forced the Flyers to use a goaltending rotation basically of Moe, Larry and Curly? That’s what the Carolina Hurricanes are enduring right now.
Carolina’s goaltending merry-go-round has spun so fast, and so erratically, that its AHL affiliate recently used six different starters during a six-game road trip. That’s not easy to do.
The Flyers have won seven in a row and have a chance to jump into first place with a win over Carolina on Thursday night and a Capitals loss in regulation at the Rangers. The Flyers have scored at least four goals in all seven games, something they hadn’t done in 27 years.
The Hurricanes, on the other hand, are scrambling. They have lost three in a row and are three points out of a playoff spot. When they play at the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday (7 p.m., NBCSP), Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour will use either Anton Forsberg (who has made two starts in net this season) or Alex Nedeljkovic (who has made two starts in his career).
This is not an easy spot for a green goaltender.
The Hurricanes haven’t played since Saturday, when they rallied for a point in an overtime loss to Montreal. Forsberg was pulled after allowing three goals in 24 minutes.
The Flyers last played Carolina on Jan. 7. They limped into that game having lost four of five on the West Coast and needed a shot of adrenaline. Though they lost in overtime, they salvaged a point by erasing a two-goal deficit.
Since then, the Flyers are 17-5-1.
“I think now guys are starting to believe we’re a really good team," goaltender Brian Elliott said after winning in Washington on Wednesday night. "If we can play like we want to on a nightly basis, we’ll put ourselves in a good spot. But first and foremost is making the playoffs and then try to play your best hockey then.”
The Hurricanes have not won a game since David Ayres came down off his Zamboni and beat Toronto as the emergency backup goaltender on Feb. 22. Petr Mrazek is dealing with a concussion. James Reimer has an undisclosed lower-body injury.
The Flyers lost third-line forward James van Riemsdyk to a broken hand when he blocked a shot Wednesday night, and they are expected to slide rookie Joel Farabee into his place alongside Derek Grant and Tyler Pitlick.
Grant took van Riemsdyk’s spot on the second power-play unit Wednesday night, so it’ll be interesting to see if coach Alain Vigneault uses Grant there on Thursday or Farabee, who has played on the PP during his 49 games up here this season.
“When you lose a guy, especially of his caliber,” Kevin Hayes said, “it [becomes] next man up.”
The Flyers are the only team in the NHL that hasn’t lost consecutive games since Jan. 7. Their confidence is sky-high.
“You’ve just got to trust what the coaching staff has been teaching us and asking us,” said Travis Konecny, who tied his career high Wednesday by scoring his 24th goal. “When you stay within a system, you always believe you’re going to have a chance to get back into the game. It was tough to see JVR go out of the game like that, but that just [gave] us an opportunity to step up for him and reward him for a big block there for us.”
Carter Hart will start in net for the Flyers. He is 18-2-2 at home this season with a .941 save percentage. He has won eight of his last nine starts overall and has lost at home in regulation just once since Halloween. “That’s really the biggest change this year," Brind’Amour observed. “Their goalies have been really good.” ... Thursday is fan appreciation night at the Wells Fargo Center. ... The Hurricanes signed Justin Williams immediately after beating the Flyers back in January. Williams scored the goal to force overtime in Carolina’s last game, but has just six points in 16 games.