PITTSBURGH >> How much does Michal Neuvirth rate with the Flyers right now? The guy didn’t even get a stall in the visitors locker room at PPG Paints Arena for this playoff series. Not that there’s anything surprising about that.
Neuvirth hasn’t really been a part of the Flyers since Feb. 20. That’s when the backup goalie went out with an injury, which came a little more than a week after starter Brian Elliott went out with an abdominal injury that would require surgery.
For Elliott, surgery was a first-time event that took him out of the lineup for seven weeks. He’s still recovering from its effects, even as he’s coming off an embarrassing Game 1 playoff loss to the Penguins and is preliminarily slated to start Game 2 Friday night.
As for Neuvirth, when the Flyers needed him most, he wasn’t there. It happens too often for him.
After exiting the lineup Feb. 20 with what is thought to be a groin injury, he would return once for a game March 28 at Colorado. He looked good in stopping 10 of 11 Avalanche shots, then went out early in the second period after apparently aggravating the injury.
Neuvirth only appeared in 22 games this season. He was officially listed as injured in 32, including that game in Colorado.
He has long carried the tag of frequently injured goalie, a reputation that only expanded during his time with the Flyers. But Ron Hextall chose to re-sign Neuvirth over Steve Mason late last season. Neuvirth is under contract through next season, as is Elliott.
The 33-year-old Elliott has had up and down playoff performances in the past, but was rather awful for Calgary last season, starting four playoff games and finishing at 0-3 with a 3.89 goals-against average and .880 saves percentage. The bomb of a start against Pittsburgh leaves him with a 10.34 GAA and .737 SP now, but hey, it’s one forgettable game.
As for Neuvirth, he was coming off an injury two years ago while the Washington Capitals built a 3-0 games lead on Mason and the Flyers.
Neuvirth was called upon then and responded brilliantly, with a 31-save victory in Game 4 and an even better, 44-save Game 5 shutout win. Neuvirth was again good in Game 6 but the Capitals eliminated the Flyers there.
If this series follows the form of the 7-0 Penguins victory Wednesday night, it would be interesting to see if Neuvirth will again be called upon by head coach Dave Hakstol in a bailout situation, as he was two years ago.
Taking off equipment while sitting in a folding chair in the middle of the locker room Thursday, Neuvirth said it was his third full practice coming off his latest injury.
“Yeah, (I’m) getting close; it feels good today,” he said. Asked if needed medical clearance to play, he added, “I’m not 100 percent sure.”
But Neuvirth says he still has to get up to speed to play.
“Probably condition and the speed are the biggest factors,” he said.
Meanwhile, Elliott says he’s re-energized and ready to go for Game 2. But he knows it’s a tall challenge.
“They have really good weapons,” Elliott said of the Penguins. “Like I said before last game, you try to negate what they do well. They hunt the puck well. They keep the puck in the zone so you have to be good at both blue lines. I think that’ll definitely be a focus here.”