Ivan Provorov barely had time to settle in after his backhanded clear went out of play untouched for a delay of game penalty. It put the Flyers down two men for one minute and 44 seconds late in the second period with a two-goal lead and momentum fizzling.
The Blackhawks won the faceoff, set up and found Patrick Kane, one of the most lethal passers in hockey, at the goal line to the left of Brian Elliott. Before the puck arrived, Kane knew what he was going to do: feed former Flyer Patrick Sharp on the backdoor.
There was one problem for Chicago. Elliott was one step ahead of Kane, as the Flyers’ goalie made a subtle poke check to prevent a goal and the Flyers escaped unharmed.
Perhaps it was the six seasons Elliott spent in the Western Conference or the five years with the Blues. Whatever the reason was, Elliott out-anticipated a Hart Trophy winner.
“You definitely pick up on stuff, tendencies and stuff like that,” Elliott said. “They could be saying the same thing about me. If they’re on the winning end, you’d be asking them those questions. You just try to better each other every night and we came out on top.”
On Thursday night, Elliott produced his best effort yet in orange and black, turning away 38 shots as the Flyers beat the Blackhawks, 3-1, at the Wells Fargo Center (see story).
Elliott didn’t face much danger on the successful 5-on-3 kill, stopping the only shot he saw, a testament to the killers — specifically Robert Hagg, who logged a 2:12 shift that featured a big blocked shot. Shortly after Provorov exited the box, Elliott bailed out the Flyers once again. This time, it was a Brandon Saad breakaway with 22.9 seconds left.
Throughout, Elliott, whose unorthodox style, at times, is fundamentally a wreck to watch, was tracking pucks far greater than he has this season. He was patient in net, outwaiting Blackhawks shooters. He looked calm, and even when he didn’t, he looked in control.
There was a sequence during the third period in which Elliott staved off a shot that deflected twice. There was a sprawling stop on Richard Panik. He saw 16 pucks in the final stanza and answered each one. It was Elliott at his finest, and an Elliott that we hadn't seen in his first nine starts.
“I felt good out there,” Elliott said. “I thought we did a good job defensively to allow me to lock in on the puck, took away lanes, took away passes. That’s what you have to do against a team like that.”
Thursday was Elliott's second consecutive start against the Blackhawks after serving as the backup in the Flyers' previous two games. Elliott stopped 34 of 36 shots his last time out, a 3-0 loss in Chicago on Nov. 1.
In 10 games, Elliott is 6-3-1 with a 2.90 goals-against average and .903 save percentage. His 38-save effort Thursday brought his GAA below three for the third time this season — the first was after his second start and the other after his fifth.
Since allowing six goals against the Ducks on Oct. 24, Elliott has allowed just nine goals on 137 shots. He now has three straight 30-plus-save performances.
"You just want to keep getting more and more comfortable," Elliott said. "It's a process. It's not going to happen automatically. Sometimes you hit bumps in the road. You're only as good as your last game."
The Flyers are Elliott's third team in as many seasons. The 32-year-old signed a two-year contract with the Flyers on July 1 after spending the 2016-17 campaign in Calgary.
Last season with the Flames was a rollercoaster for Elliott. He had a 2.96 GAA and .889 save percentage after his first 20 games with Calgary, but he finished with a respectable 2.55 GAA and .910 save percentage.
This season hasn't been as lousy as his start last year, but it hasn't exactly been smooth. He's allowed six goals twice in 10 starts and has looked erratic at times. That's part of who he is as a goalie, though.
Elliott isn't fundamentally sound as a netminder. He has his own style and it can be cringeworthy. But throughout his career, he's proven to be a reliable goalie.
As part of a tandem with Michal Neuvirth, Elliott figures to give the Flyers two steady goaltenders. Through 16 games, Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol has split it up 63/37 in Elliott's favor.
If Thursday's effort against Chicago is an indicator, Elliott's starting to find his footing with the Flyers and that is a welcomed sign.
"He's going to get better and better," Flyers center Sean Couturier said. "He's been pretty good so far this year. He's making the saves he needs to do to get the wins — that's what matters.
"He's probably getting more comfortable. You'd have to ask him. You're coming into a new town, new city, new team, you've got to get to know the guys, get to know the city. It's always a little change."