By Warren Harvey
Carter Hart is making postseason history and has the Flyers on the brink of advancing to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade.
Hart stopped 29 shots for his second straight shutout, Michael Raffl and Phil Myers each scored and the Flyers beat the Montreal Canadiens 2-0 to take a 3-1 lead in their Eastern Conference playoff series.
The top-seeded Flyers can wrap up the series in Game 5 on today. The Flyers haven’t advanced to the second round of the playoffs since 2012, made the Stanley Cup Final since 2010 or won it all since 1975.
”Everybody’s just committed to winning right now and battling hard,” Hart said.
It’s the fifth time in NHL history a goalie had back-to-back postseason shutouts before age 23 and the first since Felix Potvin in 1994.
Hart became the youngest goalie in Flyers history to notch a shutout in Game 3 on Sunday at 22 years, 3 days and followed it up with another stellar effort against the Canadiens.
He is the second-youngest goaltender in NHL history to record back-to-back shutouts in the playoffs. Harry Lumley was 18 years, 161 days when he did it for the Detroit Red Wings in 1945.
”There’s no doubt, Carter’s a huge part of this,” Flyers coach Alain Vigneault said. ”We’re not playing perfect hockey. without a doubt. We do make mistakes. but he’s able to get that big save for us.”
So much isn’t working for the Flyers. They entered 1-for-28 on the power play and the top line continues to struggle. But the depth that helped the Flyers win nine straight games shortly before the break and then win all of their round-robin games in the restart to grab the top spot was in full force.
Raffl flicked the puck past veteran Carey Price for a top shelf goal just 6:32 into the game for a 1-0 lead. Myers made it 2-0 with 2:56 left in the second on a shot that was set to wobble wide of the net. Price made a rare mistake and stabbed at the puck, only to have it deflect into the net and give Myers his second goal of the postseason.
Montreal needs a goal almost as much as it needs a win.
”It’s not pretty when you don’t score for two games,” forward Tomas Tatar said. ”We just have to do a little extra to make it happen. I just feel like once we get one, it should start rolling.”
Vigneault, who led the New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks to the Stanley Cup Final, has hit all the right notes in his first season on the bench in Philadelphia.
The Flyers used a record eight goalies last season but have been steadied under Hart – and stout backup Brian Elliott – in Vigneault’s first season. Vigneault rode Henrik Lundqvist in New York to within three wins of a championship and Roberto Luongo had four playoff shutouts when the Canucks reached the Final in 2011.
Elliott could get the Game 5 start.
”I don’t know what the plan is,” Hart said. ”It’s not my decision whether I play or not.”
Hart has proved worthy of the expectations heaped on him as Philadelphia’s franchise goalie.
”He’s been good, but I don’t think we really tested him much the last two games,” Montreal center Phillip Danault said.