It looks, and sounds, like another Philadelphia team has no choice but to turn to a backup at a crucial position for the stretch drive of the season.
Less than two weeks after quarterback Nick Foles led the Eagles to their first Super Bowl championship, taking over for an injured Carson Wentz in the final weeks of the regular season, the Flyers will need backup Michal Neuvirth to steady the bus between the pipes.
The Flyers announced late Tuesday afternoon that starting goalie Brian Elliott will miss up to six weeks after undergoing surgery to repair a core muscle. The news elevates Neuvirth, who has been hot and cold this season, to starter as the Flyers fight tooth and nail for a playoff berth – while a trade before this month’s deadline for a No. 1 goalie appears remote.
“It’s certainly not what you want – one of your players, and obviously an important player for us to this point, to get hurt,” General Manager Ron Hextall said on Tuesday. “What it does is give someone else an opportunity. We believe in Michal Neuvirth. We signed him because we believed in him.”
His coach felt the same way.
“We’ve got all the confidence in the world in Neuvy,” Dave Hakstol said following a heartbreaking 5-4 shootout loss on Tuesday to the Devils. “He’s done a good job for us two nights a row.”
Neuvirth stopped all five shots he faced after relieving Elliott in the shootout against the Arizona Coyotes as the Flyers won their first shootout of the year. He followed that up with a 38-save effort 24 hours later in a 4-1 victory in Vegas, which owns the best record in the Western Conference.
Despite making 32 saves, he was a bit shakier – as were the guys in front of him – against the Devils.
“It’s definitely exciting [to be the starting goalie], but I feel bad for [Elliott] as it’s tough to see him go down like that,” said Neuvirth, who is 7-7 with a 2.58 goals against average and .915 save percentage. “This is a team game and we are playing for each other. We are doing a great job and we need to keep doing that.”
The Flyers went into Wednesday’s games in third place in the Metropolitan Division and have a four-point lead over the Blue Jackets, who sit outside the final wild card spot. Since ending their 10-game losing streak, they have gone 20-8-3 and have been one of the best teams in the league during the stretch.
Most of those games were started by Elliott, though. The spotlight will now shine on Neuvirth.
“I know Neuvy, under pressure, has been really good,” Hextall said. “He’s shown in stints with us that he can take the ball for a while and run with it.”