They weren’t as methodical as they were in the round-robin tournament, but the Flyers continued to roll Wednesday night in Toronto.
Call them the Boys of Summer.
August isn’t supposed to be a time to be on the ice, but it agrees with the top-seeded Flyers, who opened the Stanley Cup playoffs with a hard-earned 2-1 win Wednesday over eighth-seeded Montreal at Scotiabank Arena.
Oh, they had a sloppy second period, but they regrouped and, thanks to Carter Hart’s outstanding goaltending, held off a Montreal team that was coming off a shocking play-in-round win over Pittsburgh.
The Flyers, coming off a surprising three-game, round-robin sweep that gave them the Eastern Conference’s top seed, got goals from Jake Voracek and Joel Farabee.
Teams that win Game 1 in a best-of-seven series own an all-time series record of 478-219 (68.6%). In their history, the Flyers have won 72% of their series when they win Game 1.
Game 2 is Friday at 3 p.m.
“It was a good battle between two teams, and whenever it’s a good battle on the ice, it always feels rewarding at the end,” said Hart after outplaying his boyhood idol, Carey Price, who also was superb.
In pregame warmups, Hart had a brief conversation with Price, the long-time Montreal standout.
“I just said hello quickly and good luck, and (then) it was just time to go play,” Hart said.
After being thoroughly outplayed in the second period, the Flyers steadied themselves and had the Canadiens on their heels for much of the third period. When the Habs did have a late scoring chance, Hart (27 saves) answered. He made his most difficult third-period stop when he denied the ever-present Brendan Gallagher (seven shots) on a point-blank backhander with 4:24 remaining. He later stopped Phillip Danault in a scramble in front.
The Flyers were also fortunate. Montreal’s Nick Suzuki fired a shot off the crossbar with 26.4 seconds left.
“I think we built some confidence in knowing we can play with these guys,” Canadiens coach Claude Julien said.
Sixteen seconds after the Canadiens tied it at 1-1 on Shea Weber’s power-play rebound, the Flyers took the lead on a veteran-type play by Farabee, who is actually a 20-year-old rookie.
Farabee, playing on the No. 1 line for the second straight game, deftly deflected Travis Sanheim’s point drive to force Price to make the save, then deposited his own rebound with 5:06 left in the second.
“It’s his first playoff, but it doesn’t look like it,” defenseman Ivan Provorov said. “He has poise, he’s been making plays. He’s been scoring and helping us big time. He deserves to be on that line.”
Until Farabee’s goal, Montreal dominated the second period. The Canadiens, taking advantage of their speed and several Flyers turnovers, played as if they had a man advantage for a good portion of the period.
But Hart, the night before he turns 22, was flawless until an uncovered Weber knocked a rebound into an empty net.
Montreal had a 17-7 shots advantage in the second, and it was a true indication of how they controlled play.
“We didn’t play our game in the second period,” Provorov said. “We turned the puck over at the blue line, turned the puck over in our end, and that kind of created momentum for them. ... Hartsy did a great job and kept us in the game, and when we got out there for the third, we finally started to play our game. We put pucks deep, went on the forecheck, and went on a couple power plays and that helped us take the momentum.”
Montreal managed just six third-period shots, seven fewer than the Flyers.
Earlier, the Flyers snapped their 0-for-11 power-play funk in the postseason as Provorov’s point drive deflected off Voracek and past Price with 11:06 to go in the first period. (The goal was originally credited to Provorov, but given to Voracek after the game.)
“We have to get in Price’s eyes,” center Kevin Hayes said before the game, before the Flyers did just that.
Voracek and Sean Couturier got in front of Price as Provorov unloaded his shot, which deflected off the stick of Montreal winger Paul Byron and then Voracek.
“I think we were more aggressive, more direct and firing pucks at the net,” Provorov said about the team’s power play. “We got a lot of shots from the top and that helped us to create chances.”
The Flyers, aiming to win their first playoff series since 2012, controlled the first three-quarters of the opening period before the Canadiens had a handful of scoring chances in the last five minutes of the session.
In the opening period, the Flyers outshot the Habs, 11-5, and outhit them, 15-10.
Hart made two saves on close shots by Artturi Lehkonen in the game’s first 21 minutes. The Alberta native had to be sharp as Montreal swarmed the net in the second, and the unflappable goalie robbed Byron of a two-on-one chance.
“He’s a great young goalie (with) a lot of potential,” Couturier said. “He’s just been a true pro ever since he got here. ... He prepares himself like a true pro and you respect that from a young guy.”
The Flyers were sloppy and a turnover led to a 2-on-0 break with 13:35 left in the second, but Lehkonen fell on the poor ice and lost control of the puck. The Flyers got a reprieve.
But Weber’s power-play tally tied it. Briefly.
“They were first on pucks and made us make some bad decisions,” coach Alain Vigneault said about the middle period.
For all of Hart’s second-period heroics, the best save of the period belonged to an out-of-position Price, who somehow made a diving stop with the blade of his stick to deny Scott Laughton as he appeared to have an empty net.
The Flyers have won 13 of their last 14 games, and they have been one of the league’s elite teams for a long time. Since Nov. 1, they have the NHL’s second-best record, and from Jan. 8 until the end of the regular season, they went 19-6-1, tying them with Boston for the league’s best record in that span.
And now they have won the first four games in the postseason for the sixth time in franchise history and the first time since 1985.