TAMPA, Fla. — The busiest man in December wasn’t the guy wearing a red suit and black boots with a low-hanging, long, grey beard.
And his work certainly didn’t come to an end after Dec. 25.
Instead, the workhorse of the month was undoubtedly goaltender Brian Elliott, who was called upon to deliver the Flyers with their most impressive victory this season, a 5-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning (see observations). The Lightning lost a regulation game on home ice for just the third time in 20 games.
Desperate for a win following the Flyers’ lackluster effort one night earlier against the Panthers, head coach Dave Hakstol felt he had nowhere else to turn and informed Elliott Friday morning that he was the go-to guy yet again.
Elliott completed the month of December starting every game in net, a stretch of 13 games with a record of 8-4-1 that included three pairs of back-to-backs. None seemingly tougher than the two games here in Florida.
“A little tired,” Elliott said when asked how he felt afterwards. “It’s a couple of hot buildings, so you lose a lot of liquids. It’s a big win for us. I’m feeling dehydrated, but feeling really good.”
As impressive as it was to see the Flyers’ power play finally show some life with a 2-for-6 performance, the most critical juncture of this game came in the final eight minutes of the second period when the Lightning made their strongest push. Tampa Bay appeared ready to take over after Brayden Point scored a goal with 4:23 remaining in the second period.
Then Elliott stopped a series of shots before Sean Couturier delivered a back-breaking goal with 11 seconds remaining in the period that gave the Flyers a much needed 3-2 lead heading into the third.
“It’s tough for any team to get scored on late in the period,” said Couturier, who had his third three-point night of the season. “It was tough for us with four, five minutes left [in the second period] to get scored on, but we responded well and we came with a big goal. It gave use momentum and from there we took over.”
Elliott has been the one constant in a season of mind-boggling inconsistency. The same season when the Flyers can appear uninspired against an inferior Florida Panthers team, and then proceed to play with the necessary intensity and inspiration against the NHL’s best just 24 hours later.
Perhaps the only other aspect of this game that was more surprising than the outcome was the game-winning goal off the stick of defenseman Brandon Manning, who was playing for the first time since Dec. 4 and could only start shooting pucks a few days ago after recovering from a hand injury.
“Just kind of a lucky bounce that settled right on my stick with the goalie overcommitted on the other side,” said Manning, who now has as many goals as Travis Konecny and one more than Jordan Weal.
Manning also admitted that Elliott is the stabilizing presence that hasn’t existed in previous seasons.
“It’s something that maybe the last couple of years that’s kinda been hit and miss. Now when he’s in there, there’s a lot of confidence for our defensemen back there,” Manning said of Elliott.
“It’s a big win,” Elliott said. “It’s a measuring stick for us and we know we can compete against any team. We’ve just got to do it consistently on a nightly basis.”
“The [Lightning] have been on fire all season and it’s kinda good for us to see where we stand,” Valtteri Filppula said. “It’s good to know we’ve got a chance against anybody. If we play like this, we’re going to have a good chance to win against a lot of teams.”
Undoubtedly, the Flyers can enter the new year on the heels of one very impressive win. One can only wonder if it was a case of lightning in a bottle.