Dropped into playoff race, Stolarz must be ready to answer call

The Flyers are three points behind the Detroit Red Wings in a final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Even with two games in hand, it will not be easy. In dire straits, every games counts in this four-game road trip.

At this crucial time in the Flyers schedule, the team gets another challenge with the injury of Michal Neuvirth. This will be his sixth time this season missing a game due to injury, as Sunday brought the news that he is out for three weeks with a lower-body injury, virtually ending his availability for the regular season.

All the pressure is now loaded onto Steve Mason’s back. Mason has had Neuvirth to carry the load at times before, so it's now time to return the favor. But this also opens up the opportunity for Anthony Stolarz to make an impact as well.

Stolarz was called up from the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. As the second-round draft pick in 2012, he has a record of 19-15-7 in 42 games with a 2.59 GAA and a .916 save percentage. The 22-year-old goalie was an AHL All-Star this season, but does that make him ready for the NHL? Ready or not, Stolarz will have to be ready to answer the call.

Stolarz is still a young goalie in development and has improved leaps and bounds from last season, but for a team with playoff hopes that are resting on each of the 12 games remaining, this is quite the situation to have to potentially make your NHL debut.

If he does see his chance, the young goalie will be forced to show up. He has been called up to the NHL, and watched Mason and Neuvirth from the bench and practiced with them. At times this season, he has also carried the Phantoms in the same way that Mason and Neuvirth have had to bail out the rest of the Flyers skaters. But this is the NHL and it with a playoff atmosphere in every game, this is a totally different animal.

Stolarz will be on the bench Monday night, Dave Hakstol at least confirmed that much, as Mason will be the netminder to carry the Flyers through the challenging games and the matchups against rivals and contending teams. But with three back-to-backs and a few games against teams below them in the standings, this call-up for Stolarz likely won't just be to watch from the bench and be there in case of emergency. He will have to answer the call at some point as well.

The first chance for Stolarz could come as early as Tuesday, when the Flyers play the Columbus Blue Jackets. They also have teams like the Arizona Coyotes, Winnipeg Jets and Toronto Maple Leafs — all well out of the playoff picture — left on the schedule, which could all present a chance for Stolarz to start so the Mason remains fresh for the remaining matchups against Pittsburgh, Detroit and the New York Islanders. 

Dealing with an injury to a key player isn't new for the Flyers this season. They have made it through this season without the likes of Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Jake Voracek and Michael Del Zotto at some point throughout the year. And they will have to do it again if they want to achieve the goal that has taken on a lot of new life in the previous month: earning a playoff spot.

Denise Mroz is a contributing writer for Flyerdelphia. Follow her on Twitter @denisemroz10.

Go to top button