Flyers goalie Carter Hart talks about his first playoffs, his hope that Brian Elliott returns, and his good vibes for the future
Hart, the Flyers' most consistent performer in the playoffs, believes the team has set a good foundation for future success.
He’s called Hartsy. And Cah-tah Haht. And Kid Goalie.
But you can call Carter Hart something else: the No. 1 reason the Flyers figure to be a Stanley Cup contender for the foreseeable future.
If there were any questions about Hart, he answered them in the first playoff performance of his young NHL career.
Including the round-robin tournament, Hart had a 9-5 record with a 2.23 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage in 14 postseason games.
Not bad for someone who, when the postseason started, was 21 years old. Among postseason teams, he was the youngest goalie to have appeared in more than 20 games during the regular season.
“Obviously, playoff hockey is different,” Hart said in a conference call with reporters Wednesday from near Edmonton. “You’re playing almost every second day, and it’s a little different in the sense that we were in the bubble [in Toronto] and I think the NHL was trying to get done quicker, so there was a couple back-to-backs. I think recovery and rest was really important.”
Hart said the Flyers (41-21-7) “made a lot of right steps” this season. “I think we have the right group here and can really do some damage. We just have to believe in each other. I think this experience we just had in the bubble and in the playoffs is only going to help this group moving forward next year.”
Noting that there are ups and downs in the playoffs, Hart said he tried to stay as “even-keel as possible.”
His numbers compared favorably to the first career playoff performances of this season’s three Vezina finalists: Boston’s Tuukka Rask (2.61 GAA, .912 save percentage in 2010), Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy (3.19, .895 in 2015), and Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck (2.36, .922 in 2018).
It was a postseason in which Hart:
Blanked Montreal in consecutive games, becoming the third goalie in franchise history to register back-to-back playoff shutouts. Hart joined Bernie Parent in 1975 and Michael Leighton in 2010.
Became the second-youngest goalie in NHL history to collect back-to-back playoff shutouts. Hart had just turned 22 when he twice blanked the Canadiens.
Stopped 49 of 53 shots in a thrilling 5-4 double-overtime win over the Islanders in Game 6 of the conference semifinals, the fifth-highest saves total in the franchise’s playoff history.
"It’s a good thing he’s a little too oblivious to some things [like] being a goalie in Philadelphia,” right winger Jake Voracek cracked after Hart’s 1-0 Game 3 win over the Canadiens, rebounding from a 5-0 loss in the previous matchup. “He’s very strong mentally. He’s pretty impressive the way he bounces back. That’s what good goalies do.”
After the playoffs ended, Hart took a week off and began working out Tuesday “because I felt kind of lazy sitting around the house all the time and needed to do something.”
The NHL has not set a date for the start of the 2020-21 season. It originally said it would begin Dec. 1 but later said it will probably start at a later date.
When it does begin, Hart is hopeful that Brian “Moose” Elliott, an unrestricted free agent, returns as his backup.
“He’s been a great mentor to me,” Hart said. “... He’s taught me a lot and I love playing alongside him. I really hope he’s back and I think he definitely wants to come back as well.”
As for this year’s playoffs, Hart wasn’t perfect. After a superb series in which he outplayed his idol, Carey Price, and compiled a 1.95 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage against Montreal, he was good — but not great — against the Islanders, who outplayed the Flyers in most games. He had a 2.83 GAA and a .905 save percentage against the Isles, though those numbers are inflated because of numerous defensive breakdowns in front of him.
“The Islanders come really hard and try to get bodies in front," Hart said. “I think they play a really hard forecheck ... and they’re tough to defend against. I think they came a lot harder than we expected.”
In his first full NHL season, Hart went 24-13-3 with a 2.42 GAA and a .914 save percentage. He was much stronger at home (1.63 GAA, .943 save percentage than on the road (3.81, .857).
“He performed well all year,” general manager Chuck Fletcher said last week. " I think at the beginning of the year, he struggled a little bit on the road, which I think is more of a fluke. Do I think there will be regression next year? No. He’ll probably have a more normal record on the road. He’s always played really well on the road at every level."
As for the future, “Carter’s going to be a big part of it, as are a lot of our other young players,” Fletcher said. "I think on the whole, you look back at Ivan Provorov and the way he improved. Phil Myers and Travis Sanheim, I thought, gave us some tremendous performances during the season and during the playoffs. [Travis] Konecny, Oskar Lindblom, hopefully Nolan Patrick, Joel Farabee, there’s a lot of very good young hockey players here that are only going to get better. As they continue to grow, our team will continue to grow. "
Hart will be at the center of that growth.