Carter Hart’s back-to-back shutouts have the Philadelphia Flyers poised to win their first playoff series since 2012. They’ll get a chance to close out the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday after taking a 3-1 series lead with a 2-0 win over Montreal on Tuesday.
The Flyers have bounced back impressively since the Canadiens evened the teams’ first-round playoff series 1-1 with a 5-0 shutout win of their own last Friday.
In that game, Hart was lifted with 2:03 left to play in the second period, after allowing four goals on 26 shots. When he got the net back in Game 3 on Sunday, he stopped all 23 shots he faced and was named first star in a 1-0 Philadelphia win. He followed up with a 29-save effort in Game 4 on Tuesday.
In 74 regular-season games over his first two NHL seasons, Hart had just one prior shutout — a 4-0 win over the New Jersey Devils on October 9, 2019. For their part, the Canadiens finished the regular season averaging 2.93 goals per game. They were shut out just once, losing 4-0 to the Tampa Bay Lightning on March 5.
Through games completed Tuesday, Hart’s two shutouts tie him for the 2020 playoff lead with Joonas Korpisalo of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cam Talbot of the Calgary Flames and the man at the other end of the ice — his idol, Carey Price. Hart’s .958 save percentage has him tied for second overall with Pavel Francouz of the Colorado Avalanche, behind only Jake Allen of the St. Louis Blues. And his 1.24 goals-against average ranks him fourth, behind the now-eliminated Tristan Jarry of the Pittsburgh Penguins (1.02), Francouz (also 1.02), and Allen (1.20).
“Hartsy’s been an absolute wall for us back there,” said Flyers defenseman Philippe Myers, whose second goal of the playoffs was a poor-angle shot that beat Carey Price on Tuesday. “The way he’s playing right now, he‘s the best in the league.”
On Sunday, Hart became the youngest netminder in Flyers history to record a postseason shutout. He turned 22 three days earlier.
Carter Hart’s shutout streak of 120:00 is the seventh-longest in @NHLFlyers playoff history and the longest since 2010 when Michael Leighton had a 172:55 streak en route to the #StanleyCup Final. #NHLStats pic.twitter.com/GyehxEJGGl
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) August 18, 2020
On Tuesday, Michael Raffl’s second of the playoffs came at 6:32 of the first period. It proved to be the game-winner.
Raffl started the game on a line with Nate Thompson and Tyler Pitlick. He rewarded Flyers coach Alain Vigneault’s search for more scoring, moving up to play with Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek. Captain Claude Giroux slotted in with Derek Grant and Scott Laughton.
Joel Farabee also drew back into the lineup after sitting out Game 3, playing with Kevin Hayes and Travis Konecny. And Connor Bunnaman was effective in a fourth-line role in his first game of the series. James van Riemsdyk and Nicolas Aube-Kubel came out of the lineup.
On Wednesday, the Flyers will regain home-ice advantage, such as it is in the hub cities. Aube-Kubel was deemed ‘unfit to play’ on Tuesday, so his availability is uncertain.
Vigneault also declined to comment on why van Riemsdyk didn’t dress on Tuesday. One thing’s for sure: he wants his team to keep its positive momentum going in its first crack at advancing.
“Getting into the playoffs and winning one round is not our goal, but it’s our first step and tonight we’ve got an opportunity to go out and we’re going to need to play our best,” he said.
Lighting the Lamp
Hart’s strong play is the No. 1 reason why the Flyers are on the brink of advancing. Goals have been hard to come by in this series. The Flyers scored 11 times in three round-robin games to secure the top seed in the Eastern Conference. They have managed just five goals in four games against the Canadiens. Giroux, Couturier, Hayes and Konecny are all still looking to light the lamp for the first time in the 2020 postseason.
They’ll be staring down the legendary Price once again on Wednesday. The 33-year-old helped Montreal steal its preliminary-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. His numbers throughout the postseason have been stellar — a .949 save percentage and 1.48 goals-against average.
The Flyers and Canadiens will cap off a three-game day in the NHL’s Toronto hub on Wednesday. The game is scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. ET, on NBCSN and Sportsnet.