Dropping a 3-2 shootout decision to a six-win Montreal team that had lost seven straight games was not what the Flyers had in mind Thursday at the Bell Centre.

But their top players couldn’t finish, they struggled again in the shootout, and they paid the price for a sloppy first period and for not converting a four-on-three power play in overtime.

The Flyers had previously won three in a row.

“This one stings for sure,” said goalie Carter Hart after stopping 38 of 40 shots. “But we got a point, and that point’s huge for us right now. Let’s build on it, learn from it, and get ready for Saturday’s game” against Ottawa at the Wells Fargo Center.

The Flyers salvaged a point by getting goals from unlikely sources: third-line left winger Max Willman and fourth-line left winger Jackson Cates, who scored for the first time in his five-game NHL career. Cates, recently recalled from the AHL’s Phantoms, was playing in his first NHL game this season

“With a lot of guys out of the lineup right now, it’s important for us to come in and contribute and make an impact,” Willman said after the win. “I think for us our mindset is that we don’t want to come out of the lineup.”

Unfortunately, Willman will be out of the lineup Saturday night against Ottawa. On Saturday morning, the Flyers announced that the left winger and a staff member had been placed on the COVID-19 protocol.

The team also announced that Hart was unavailable for Saturday’s game because of an undetermined illness. Martin Jones will get the start.

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Willman has made an impressive climb over the last two years — from playing in the ECHL with Reading, to establishing himself with the Phantoms, to making his way with the Flyers.

At 26, he is a late bloomer.

“He’s definitely a guy who hasn’t had the easiest road,” Flyers defenseman Keith Yandle said earlier this season.

Because of injuries and illnesses to three forwards, Willman started the season with the Flyers before eventually going back to Lehigh Valley, where he promptly scored eight goals in 13 games and earned another call-up.

The speedy Massachusetts native scored the Flyers’ first goal Thursday. It was his second goal in the last four games and it tied the score at 1-1 in the second, enabling the Flyers to gain momentum after getting thoroughly outplayed in the opening period.

Cates’ goal gave the Flyers a 2-1 lead with a minute left in the second.

“It felt amazing. A dream come true. A goal I’ll never forget,” said Cates, 24.

The Flyers had beaten Vegas, Arizona and New Jersey by a combined 15-7 before falling to the Habs.

“I think the last few games we played a lot better as a group,” Hart said about the three wins. “We’re still building and still learning our systems here, but I think we really responded in the second and third [Thursday].”

In the first period, the Flyers were outshot, 19-8, and they had 12 giveaways — 10 more than the Canadiens.

“We knew we had a lot more to give,” Hart said. “We came out in the second period and played a lot better hockey. We played a full-ice game and got pucks in deep and just made plays and got rewarded with a couple goals there. Max’s was a nice goal, and then Catesy with his first, so that was exciting to see for him.”

Empty building

The game was played before no fans because Quebec public health officials requested it, citing a spike in local COVID-19 cases.

“It was a little weird, but that’s just the world we’re living in now,” Hart said. “Hopefully it’ll get back to normal here, and hopefully things can stay the same for us [with fans allowed] down in the U.S.”

When the puck drops, “the intensity is still there, the emotion is still there, so I don’t want to say it had an effect one way or the other on the game,” added interim coach Mike Yeo when asked about playing in an empty building.

Breakaways

The Flyers are 0-3 in shootouts this season and an NHL-worst 53-95 in franchise history. … Montreal goalie Cayden Primeau, a former star at Bishop Eustace Prep in Pennsauken, stopped 37 of 39 shots and beat the Flyers in his first career appearance against them. He is the son of former Flyer Keith Primeau. … In his last three games, Hart has a .946 save percentage. “He’s the backbone back there,” Willman said. ... Claude Giroux needs one point to tie Bill Barber (883 points) for second place in Flyers history. Bobby Clarke is No. 1 with 1,210 career points.

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