The Flyers will take some serious momentum into a key three-game series in Pittsburgh.
They completed a weekend sweep of the Sabres on Sunday as Carter Hart and his teammates shut down Buffalo, 3-0, and gave coach Alain Vigneault his 700th victory, which is tied with Mike Babcock for eighth in NHL history.
The Flyers have three straight shutouts – all by 3-0 scores – against the Sabres this season, blanking them over the last 181 minutes, 11 seconds. It marked the first time in franchise history the Flyers shut out an opponent three straight times in a season. They last blanked an opponent three times in a season in 1974-75 (Minnesota North Stars), but it was not done consecutively.
Hart, who allowed six goals and was removed from the game in a 7-3 outdoor loss to Boston in his last outing, rebounded and made 28 saves and collected his second career shutout.
“There was no doubt in my mind, and I’m sure there was no doubt in his teammates’ minds, that he would have a good game tonight, and he had an excellent game,” Vigneault said. “We played really well in front of him in the first and second periods. ... In the third, we got a little bit sloppy there, but he had a real solid performance.”
Since the shelling against Boston, Hart, 22, spent lots of time working with goalie coach Kim Dillabaugh and “getting back to basics at practice and just having a lot more fun at the rink and away from the rink, staying connected to my family and talking with my support group and my support system.”
Overall, the Flyers have three consecutive wins as their lineup is almost back to full strength after the COVID-19 protocol had sidelined six regulars at one stretch.
“I think we’re playing some good hockey,” center Sean Couturier said. “We’re responsible with and without the puck. We’re making the right decisions, and I think we’re trending in the right way. ... We’re hard to play against right now, and I think that leads to our offense most of the time.”
Couturier (rebound) and Michael Raffl (deflection) scored 75 seconds apart early in the second period at KeyBank Center, snapping a scoreless tie and triggering the win.
The Flyers recorded back-to-back shutouts for the first time since 2015. Brian Elliott blanked Buffalo on Saturday.
Couturier has a six-game point streak (five goals, five assists), equaling a career high.
After Couturier and Raffl beat Jonas Johansson, the Sabres nearly sliced the lead in half with 7:05 left in the second, but Hart made a sliding save to deny Kyle Okposo as he tried to finish a two-on-one break.
The Flyers made it 3-0 less than three minutes later as James van Riemsdyk, on his backhand, deflected Joel Farabee’s pass into the net after a shift in which defenseman Ivan Provorov ragged the puck in the offensive zone and wore out the Sabres.
“We were moving it around pretty good and it was at the end of a long shift,” said van Riemsdyk, who has 20 points in his last 12 games. “We were just looking to get to open areas and move around the puck.”
Van Riemsdyk and his linemate, Farabee, each had two points in the victory.
The Flyers have won three straight, and they are close to having their entire team healthy. Travis Konecny, who went on the COVID-19 list on Feb. 14 and came off of it Sunday, could play in Pittsburgh, perhaps as early as the series opener Tuesday.
When Konecny returns, the Flyers will have everyone available for the first time since Game 2 on Jan. 15, when the Flyers finished a season-starting, two-game sweep of the Penguins. Couturier was injured early in that 5-2 win.
The Flyers dominated the second half of a scoreless first period Sunday, getting the last 11 shots in the session, including point-blank chances by Scott Laughton and van Riemsdyk that Johansson stopped.
The Flyers had been averaging a league-low 23 shots per game before starting their three-game winning streak and collecting 39, 39 and 38 shots, respectively.
“We’re putting more pucks to the net,” Couturier said. “Credit goes to our D-men, creating better lanes and getting the puck through, and us forwards getting to loose pucks and trying to control the play in their end.”
The Flyers and Sabres are in the midst of brutal schedules caused by COVID-19 postponements. The Flyers are playing six games in nine nights, and Buffalo is playing nine games in 14 nights.