By Melody Miller
The Flyers are headed to the second round of the bubblicious Stanley Cup playoffs.
And they look like serious contenders for their first Stanley Cup since 1975 with a 4-2 Eastern Conference playoff series win over the Montreal Canadiens.
Up next, the New York Islanders, a team that went 3-0 against the Flyers in the regular season.
The Flyers advanced to the second round for the first time since 2012 in large part on the back of 22-year-old goalie Carter Hart. Hart has steadied a position long a thorn in the Flyers’ championship hopes and outplayed his goalie idol Carey Price — their postgame chat was a moment Hart said he would never forget — and showed why the top-seeded Flyers were the betting favorite to bring the Cup back to Philly.
Hart’s numbers have sparkled — two shutouts and a 1.95 GAA vs. Montreal and a 6-2-0 mark and a .943 save percentage overall in the eight games in Toronto since the NHL restart.
The Flyers needed him at near-perfect levels given the state of the offense. The Flyers scored 11 goals against Montreal, setting a team mark for fewest goals scored in a six-game series win. The Canadiens outscored the Flyers 13-11 in the series, marking the first time in franchise history that the Flyers have won a playoff series in which they were outscored. Montreal’s number is puffed up by a 5-0 win in Game 2 that turned into the lone postseason blight on Hart’s resume.
”I think just trust in my own game and trust in my teammates,” Hart said.
The Flyers and Islanders have met only four times in the playoffs, and not since the 1987 Division Finals. The Flyers are 3-1 all-time in those four series. Consider, Hart wasn’t born until 1998.
”A lot of those guys, it was their first kick at the can as far as playoff hockey,” Flyers coach Alain Vigneault said. ”You’ve got to learn. You’ve got to grow. Carter Hart’s got to learn. He’s got to grow. He was up against his idol growing up and he handled it like we expected. Like we expect our team to handle the playoffs.”
They should need more offensive punch to get past the Islanders. The Flyers have made it this far in the postseason without any major production from their top scorers. Travis Konecny (24), Kevin Hayes (23), Sean Couturier (22), Claude Giroux (21), and James van Riemsdyk (19) all failed to score a goal headed into Game 6. The Flyers even scratched van Riemsdyk for multiple games during the playoffs.
Hayes finally broke through for a goal in Friday’s 3-2 Game 6 victory.
”We just need to get back to playing the right way we were before this series,” Hayes said. ”I don’t think we’re playing bad.”
It was a night to celebrate for a team that hasn’t had much go right for most of the last decade. The Flyers last played in a Stanley Cup Final in 2010 (JVR and Giroux remain from that team) and Vigneault turned them into winners, much as he did in leading the New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks to the Final.
”I hope that people enjoyed the series,” Vigneault said. ”There were certainly some entertaining parts to it. We’ll get ready for the next one.”