For the first time in decades, the Philadelphia Flyers’ goaltending should be a team strength when the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs get underway next month.
It’s hard to believe that it has been 34 years since Ron Hextall burst onto the Flyers’ scene. In the high-scoring 1986-87 season where Wayne Gretzky led the league with 62 goals and 183 points, the 22-year-old rookie played a league-high 66 games, led all goaltenders with 37 wins and was the only starter that year to post a save percentage over .900.
In the playoffs, Hextall got his team to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final before the Flyers fell to Gretzky’s Oilers. He was named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP despite ending up on the losing side.
When the Flyers last went to the Stanley Cup Final a decade ago, it was in spite of their goaltending, not because of it.
Ray Emery was signed to be the team’s starter for the 2009-10 season, but suffered injury issues that eventually led to season-ending surgery. Journeyman Michael Leighton was picked up off waivers from the Carolina Hurricanes in December. He shared duties with Brian Boucher during the season but was injured himself in mid-March. Leighton got back into the net when Boucher went down with an injury of his own during the second round of the playoffs. He remained the starter until Patrick Kane’s overtime winner gave the Chicago Blackhawks the 2010 Stanley Cup.
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Hart Will Handle
Hart turns 22 on August 13. This year, he’ll be celebrating his birthday with his teammates in the bubble in Toronto. Hart put up a 24-13-3 record In his second NHL season with a .914 save percentage. He came back strong in February after missing three weeks with an abdominal injury, going 9-2-0 with a .934 save percentage and 1.93 goals-against average up to the NHL’s pause in mid-March.
Hart has also shown that he can answer the bell in big games. He backstopped Canada to gold at the 2018 World Junior Championship and won silver at the 2017 World Juniors and the 2019 Men’s Worlds.
This week, Hart has been in and out of the Flyers training-camp lineup. On Thursday, he took some shots on his own after leaving the ice during a scrimmage earlier in the week.
Coach Alain Vigneault says not to worry.
“The reason we didn’t put him in practice basically today is because it was a scrimmage and he hadn’t skated for the last two days,” Vigneault told the media on Thursday. “We felt it was smarter to put him out on his own. Let him take a good number of shots and see how he feels.
“He came out and feels good. Everything should be good to go tomorrow.”
Elliott will back up Hart this summer. The 35-year-old delivered a solid season of his own with the Flyers, with a record of 16-7-4. Elliott has 45 games of playoff experience. In 2016, he delivered Game 7 wins against Chicago and the Dallas Stars as the St. Louis Blues advanced to the Western Conference Final.
Vigneault wants to use the Flyers’ three-game round-robin to make sure he has both his netminders ready for whatever lies ahead.
AV says Brian Elliott will play at least one round-robin game to stay sharp. #Flyers
— Sam Carchidi (@BroadStBull) July 14, 2020
“I do think that the experience of Brian gives us a great tandem,” Vigneault said. “Whoever we put in goal, they’re going to do a great job for us. That’s what both our goaltenders have done for us all year long.
“Goaltending is a big part of season success and a real big part of playoff success. We are no different than everybody else. We’re going to need our goaltender to be at the top of their game. I think we’re all very confident that any one of those two guys will do a great job for us.”