All through Training Camp 2.0, Flyers coach Alain Vigneault said he planned to give Brian Elliott a start in the round-robin tournament to keep him sharp, so it wasn’t surprising that he announced that the 35-year-old backup goalie would face the Washington Capitals on Thursday.
The game will be held at 4 p.m. in Toronto, the Eastern Conference’s hub city, and it will be the second round-robin matchup for both teams. The Flyers are 1-0 in the seeding tournament, while the Caps are 0-0-1.
The Flyers went 3-0-1 against Washington this season, and Elliott was a big part of their dominance. He went 2-0 with a 2.00 goals-against average and .926 save percentage against the Capitals.
“Ells has always stepped up to the plate whenever he comes in,” right winger Travis Konecny said in a Zoom call with reporters after practice Wednesday. “I mean, he’s played well against Washington. He definitely knows what he’s doing. He’s got a lot of experience at this time of year.”
“Moose will be ready. ... and we’ll be ready to go in front of him,” defenseman Travis Sanheim said. “We’ll have a tough challenge against Washington. A lot of offense over there, but we’ve done well against them this season, and hopefully we can continue that streak.”
In their season series, the Flyers outscored the Capitals, 16-8, and Washington superstar Alex Ovechkin had no points and was minus-4 with just 10 shots.
Carter Hart, 21, who was superb in a 4-1 round-robin win Sunday over NHL-best Boston, will get the call Saturday when the Flyers meet Tampa Bay in their last round-robin game. Hart was brilliant in two games against the Caps this season, posting a 1.45 GAA and a .953 save percentage.
“We have a lot of confidence and faith in both of our goaltenders,” Vigneault said. “... I said he [Elliott] was going to get a game in, and I feel now is the right time.”
Rookie left winger Joel Farabee will replace the injured Michael Raffl on Thursday and is expected to play on the third line. Vigneault said he would probably make one other change among the forwards. Connor Bunnaman, another rookie, may replace veteran James van Riemsdyk.
Farabee, 20, is the Flyers’ youngest player, while Elliott is their second-oldest.
Elliott was asked if he had any postseason advice for Farabee.
“We always try to approach it like any other game,” said Elliott, who has a 2.76 GAA and .903 save percentage in 45 career playoff games. “The blood starts going a little earlier and the nerves can creep in a little bit. But without the crowd noise and that intensity thrown in the mix, it’s a little different. It’s just trying to calm yourself and getting ready to play your game. Don’t try to do anything special out there. Play your role and make the plays you should and try to limit those mistakes. I think that’s what playoff hockey is about.”
In another matter, left winger Oskar Lindblom, who finished treatments for a rare bone cancer last month, is skating in Sweden and will “soon” join the Flyers in Toronto, Vigneault said.
Earlier in the day, general manager Chuck Fletcher said he was hopeful Lindblom would play at some point in the playoffs. Because of the extended season caused by the pandemic, Vigneault said, it was realistic Lindblom would play, based on the fact that doctors originally said the winger should be ready to return in September.
If the Flyers are still playing in September, then, Lindblom could be in their lineup. He was tied for the Flyers lead with 11 goals when he received a diagnosis of Ewing’s sarcoma in December.
“Obviously, Oskar has been through a lot,” Sanheim said. “We’ve been with him every step of the way, trying to support him as best we can. .. If he’s able to join us at some point, I think it would not only be good for him but the team itself. To have him around the guys would be great. He’s such a likable guy, It would motivate us and help us in the playoff run.”
Because Lindblom has been away from hockey for so long, he would have a huge challenge to be game-ready, Konecny said.