Boston’s Tuukka Rask. Washington’s Braden Holtby. Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Each veteran goaltender has an impressive resume. Each has won a Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goalie. Each is expected to face the Flyers in the three-game round-robin tournament.
Combined, the three goalies have 211 games of Stanley Cup playoff experience. That’s 211 more NHL playoff games than Flyers goalie Carter Hart.
But, hey, you have to start somewhere, and this seems as good a time as any for the blossoming Hart to get his playoff baptism and show he can play with the big boys.
The challenge is intriguing. The kid goalie trying to prove he is ready for the big stage vs. the goalies who have been there, done that.
First up, Rask. Maybe. If healthy, the Bruins’ star goalie will face the Flyers when the teams return Sunday afternoon in Toronto and play a real game for the first time in 143 days, or nearly five months. Rask was ill and missed Saturday’s practice, and if he’s not ready Sunday, he will be replaced by Jaroslav Halak, another quality veteran goalie.
Rask, 33, is a certified Flyers killer. He blanked them when the teams played their last game, a 2-0 Boston win at the Wells Fargo Center on March 10.
The Finland native was the NHL’s best goalie this season (2.12 goals-against average, .929 save percentage) and has gone 15-2-4 against them with a 1.94 GAA and .934 save percentage.
“He’s really athletic in there. Obviously, he has a ton of experience,” Flyers left winger James van Riemsdyk said. “I think defense-wise, they do a pretty good job on their team, too. Obviously, if you combine that with the really good goalie they have, it makes it tough to score goals.”
Getting traffic in front of Rask -- or Halak -- is imperative.
“Just try to be around the net, get your stick on pucks and second chances,” van Riemsdyk agreed.
“Most goalies you play against these days, they’re all insane,” right winger Travis Konecny said.
He meant insanely good.
“You’ve just got to get traffic to the net and get pucks to the right areas,” Konecny said. “I don’t think we’re going to focus too much on a specific goalie. You’ve just got to play the same way and wait for your opportunities.”
Based on the goalies they will face in the round robin, the Flyers will have a difficult time advancing more than one spot in the seedings. They are seeded fourth and can only move up or stay in the same spot.
Then again, the Flyers have a high-quality goalie of their own, Hart, and a team that was the hottest in the NHL when the coronavirus stopped the season March 12.
This isn’t like past years when the Flyers were frequently on the wrong end of the goalie matchup in the postseason.
“It’ll be a pretty good challenge, but we’ve got two pretty good guys back there as well,” said Flyers forward Scott Laughton, referring to Hart and Brian Elliott. “I think goaltending is a huge factor, not only in the round-robin games but the playoffs as well. I think it’s going to be tough, but we have to continue to get better.
“Obviously all three goalies have been around a little bit and have won at different levels,” Laughton added about the matchups, “but you have to approach it the same and play the same way.”
While Rask and Vasilevskiy had outstanding seasons and are among the three Vezina finalists, Holtby (3.11 GAA, .897 save percentage) – who led the Capitals to the Stanley Cup in 2018 -- had the worst season of his 10-year NHL career.
It should also be noted that since Feb. 10 – when Hart returned from a lower-abdominal injury that sidelined him for about a month – the Flyers’ young goalie was better than Rask through the end of the pandemic-shortened regular season. Better than Vasilevskiy and Holtby. Better than most goalies in the NHL.
Hart, who turns 22 on Aug. 13, was 9-2 with a 1.93 goals-against average and .934 save percentage in that span, and no NHL goalie had more wins in the last month of the season.
Yes, it’s a daunting task to be matched in the round robin against goalies with such sterling reputations.