Montreal’s Carey Price was Carter Hart’s favorite goalie when Hart was just a wee snowflake growing up in the Edmonton suburbs. Every time Price brought glory to the Great North, from winning international tournaments as a teenager to climbing the Olympic mountaintop in 2014, another poster went up on bedroom walls all across the land.
The first time Hart played against Price was forgettable. Last season, rookie year, gave up three goals in 10 minutes and was pulled. A walk of shame back to the Wells Fargo Center bench.
The next time he faced his hero, Hart was excellent in a loss. The third time they met, Hart finally beat Price.
There is a lot of optimism when it comes to Carter Hart. The kid seems as unflappable between his ears as he is between the pipes. He turns 22 on Thursday, but don’t bother getting him an electric razor. It looks like it’d take him six months to grow a playoff beard.
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The three biggest stunners of the first week of play were Montreal and Chicago pulling upsets in qualifying series and the Flyers rolling through the East round-robin. Hart, though, had his own surprise when he bumped into Price. They’ve played against one another, but never really chatted.
“Just had the chance to meet him the other week and talk with him for the first time,” Hart said. “That was something pretty cool.”
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Hart has stared down some of the best players on all the other teams this season and calmly steered their shots to the corner. The six most prolific scorers in the conference have four goals against the Flyers with Hart in net. Four goals in more than a combined five full games worth of ice time. Fifty-seven shots faced, 53 turned away. Consider
Hart’s stop on Kucherov’s breakaway in the first period of Saturday’s round-robin game kept momentum on the Flyers’ side. Kucherov, as NBC analyst Keith Jones noted, often makes goalies look foolish when he’s in alone.
The Flyers went on to a 4-1 win, and are the No. 1 seed primarily because of their defense and goaltending. They gave up three goals in three games and never trailed.
But now the most imposing opponent is not a sniper, but rather the other goalie who ground the Penguins into submission. Pittsburgh didn’t score for the last 94-plus minutes and were beaten by 12th-seeded Montreal in four games.
“He definitely stole them a series,” Hart said. “He played really well, made a lot of big saves, kept them in it. We know he’s arguably the best goaltender in the NHL.”
That was a best-of-five. The Flyers-Montreal will be a best-of-seven.
Flyers coach Alain Vigneault always brushes off questions about Hart, who has not lost consecutive starts since early January. Since returning from an abdominal strain in early February, Hart is 11-2 with a .939 save percentage and a 1.78 goals against.
Numbers are just one barometer of his resiliency. The other is less tangible. You can’t teach cool.