Flyers' playoff hopes are starting to depend on Brian Elliott

Flyers' playoff hopes are starting to depend on Brian Elliott

Right before taking the ice under the lights at Lincoln Financial Field for Friday night's practice, Brian Elliott found out he was starting the Stadium Series game.

Prior to that discussion with interim head coach Scott Gordon, it's possible Elliott wondered if he would ever play again for the Flyers.

The 33-year-old goalie was expected to back up 20-year-old fan favorite Carter Hart in the team's final game ahead of the NHL trade deadline. Elliott, a pending unrestricted free agent and unlikely to be re-signed in the offseason, was a candidate to be dealt with general manager Chuck Fletcher readying for 2019-20.

Suddenly, though, Elliott saw himself between the pipes with 69,620 fans looking on in the biggest game of the season against the Flyers' biggest rival.

And suddenly, he's one of the most vital sources to the Flyers' playoff chances in 2018-19, a season clinging to hope with 19 games remaining.

"I was just really happy to be out there, back in the element," Elliott said last Friday after practice at the Linc. "You kind of feel back at home and you kind of have a new zest for life."

It's evident in the results. Elliott was not moved at the deadline and he's been needed now with Hart out at least 10 days because of an ankle injury. The new zest for life has turned into back-to-back wins for Elliott. He converted 40 saves last Saturday in the 4-3 OT Stadium Series victory over the Penguins and followed it up with 34 stops in the Flyers' 5-2 decision Tuesday over the Sabres (see observations).

After missing 40 games because of a lower-body injury, Elliott is 2-0-0 with a 2.21 goals-against average and .940 save percentage in his four outings back — two relief appearances and two starts.

"It can't be easy for a lot of those goalies, to be honest," James van Riemsdyk said. "It's been tough. Some of them dealing with injuries and different things like that, and different people coming in and out. 

"So he's a good pro and he works at it and he has a good mindset. I think it allows him to have consistent success and be ready to go when his number is called."

Nothing has been easy for the Flyers in net. They've played seven goalies and the decisions are only getting harder. Time will tell when the rookie Hart can return and how quickly he'll be up to snuff in playoff-like games following an injury. Meanwhile, Cam Talbot hasn't played since being acquired Feb. 16 but will have to soon.

The Flyers entered Wednesday seven points back of the Eastern Conference's second wild-card spot. Their next fives games are against Metropolitan Division opponents — two against the first-place Islanders and one against the defending champion Capitals.

When Fletcher traded for Talbot, Elliott was getting healthy and Hart was the guy. The GM was asked about divvying up playing time among the goalies.

"It's hard to predict the future. I think you guys worry about that stuff a little bit more than I do," Fletcher said. "Since I've been here, it's been one thing after another. There have been times we've struggled to even get two healthy goaltenders in the net. We'll just take it day by day and play the guy that gives us the best chance to win and let things sort out."

Fletcher was spot-on. At this point, we've learned that nothing is predictable with the Flyers' goaltending situation.

Just ask Brian Elliott.

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Don't lose perspective with Flyers prospect Jay O'Brien

Don't lose perspective with Flyers prospect Jay O'Brien

The Flyers saw both ends of the spectrum with their first-round picks from the 2018 draft.

While Joel Farabee shined at Boston University this season (see story), Jay O'Brien struggled to find his game at Providence College.

After a freshman season comprised of injuries and five points (two goals, three assists) in 25 games, it appears O'Brien's time with the Friars is over.

According to a report Tuesday by Jeff Cox of the New England Hockey Journal, O'Brien has entered the NCAA transfer portal and will play for the Penticton Vees of the BCHL during the 2019-20 season.

O'Brien, a playmaking center, will have three years of college eligibility remaining.

Now, before anyone starts debating O'Brien's future, let's remember the importance of perspective with teenage prospects. 

O'Brien was perceived as a bit of project when the Flyers' previous regime of Ron Hextall and Chris Pryor selected him 19th overall last summer. Taking O'Brien at No. 19 was viewed by many as a reach, but the Flyers' scouting staff was high on the Thayer Academy product and trusted its evaluation. The Flyers took O'Brien over other centers Joseph Veleno, Rasmus Kupari and Isac Lundestrom.

This season, Veleno put up 104 points in the QMJHL, Kupari had 33 points over 43 games in Liiga (Finnish pro league) and Lundestrom appeared in 15 games with the Ducks.

O'Brien, because of his smaller stature (5-foot-11, 174 pounds) and being drafted out of prep school, had an adjustment period playing Division I hockey (see story). Multiple injuries also didn't help his cause with the transition.

But patience with O'Brien was always going to be imperative. The Flyers drafted him on a lot of upside after taking more of a guarantee in the quick-rising Farabee five picks earlier. The 19-year-old O'Brien isn't lacking in ability or work ethic. Providence head coach Nate Leaman, who led the Friars to a national title in 2015, called O'Brien's skill set "elite."

"It takes time to learn to play at the speed, to play with the lack of space," Leaman said in January during a phone interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia (see story).

"These guys that come right from high school, it takes time and I know Philly has told us that they understand that also."

O'Brien paid little attention to pre-draft rankings last summer.

"I don't even know where I was," he said at development camp. "It doesn't mean much to me. It's not really where you get drafted, it's what you do after you get drafted."

He'll have a new path in 2019-20, another chance to prove himself. There's still plenty to like, with plenty of time.

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2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule: Game 7s are here for Maple Leafs-Bruins, Golden Knights-Sharks series

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2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule: Game 7s are here for Maple Leafs-Bruins, Golden Knights-Sharks series

The two best words in sports: Game Seven.

Well, we get two times the fun Tuesday night as Game 7 matchups are here for the Maple Leafs-Bruins and Golden Knights-Sharks first-round playoff series.

Below is the full schedule for Day 14 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. You can watch the entire playoffs on the networks of NBC. 

Toronto Maple Leafs at Boston Bruins (tied 3-3)
Game 7, Eastern Conference first round
7 p.m. ET | TV: NBCSN | Live stream here

Vegas Golden Knights at San Jose Sharks (tied 3-3)
Game 7, Western Conference first round
10 p.m. ET | TV: NBCSN | Live stream here