By Lukas Weese
As the handshake line progressed after Philadelphia dispatched Montreal in Game 6 Friday, Flyers goalie Carter Hart received the obligatory congratulations from the Canadiens.
Some players, like Habs defenseman Victor Mete, gave Hart a pat on the shoulder, a sign of respect between former Canadian World Junior Championship teammates.
But when Hart arrived to meet Carey Price, it represented something greater: the meeting of two goalies from different generations – Hart, 22, at the beginning of his career, and Price, 33, in the latter stages.
Both displayed brilliance between the pipes in the series, and both had moments where they needed to bounce back.
Hart’s resilience prevailed, earning Price’s admiration. The two embraced at the blueline in an empty Scotiabank Arena.
Even with no fans in the stands, this was Carter Hart’s arrival moment in the NHL playoff spotlight.
“I look up to (Carey),” Hart told reporters after the game, “and for him to come over and congratulate me, saying it was a hell of a series and I’ll be watching, was definitely something I won’t forget.”
Dennis Williams joined the Everett Silvertips as coach in Hart’s last WHL season. During that time, Williams says, Hart brought energy and enthusiasm into the dressing room. He knew when to have fun with teammates and to achieve that balance between hockey and being a normal teenager.
“It’s the second week of the season, and after practice, Carter is out in player’s skates shooting pucks,” Williams said. “He just loves the game so much. I learned a lot about the league and players just through Carter. He was one of our greatest leaders.”
On game days, however, Hart dialed into his normal routine.
“I didn’t deal with Carter on game days,” Williams said. “From a goalie standpoint, I just let him do his thing.”
Hart didn’t lose a lot of games with the 2017-18 Silvertips. Under Williams, Hart went 31-6-3 with a 1.60 goals-against average and .947 save percentage.
After the rare instances where Hart lost, he was eager to get back in net. Even in games where the Silvertips had to travel between cities on consecutive days.
“We didn’t lose many back-to-backs with Carter in net,” Williams said. “There was never a second thought about going back with Carter because he was so determined to get us back in the win column.”
After winning a gold medal for Canada at the 2018 world juniors and leading the Silvertips to the WHL final, Hart made the move to the AHL, playing for the Flyers’ affiliate in Lehigh Valley. The transition to the AHL was not an easy one.
Scott Gordon, who coached Hart during his short time with the Phantoms, remembers Hart’s early struggles, particularly him having to adjust to the quality of shots from professional players.
Gordon specifically recalls a game against the Providence Bruins on Nov. 16, 2018, when Hart let in three goals on eight shots. “I asked him, ‘When was the last time you got pulled?’ ” He couldn’t remember a time,” Gordon said. “I told him, ‘This is going to happen, it doesn’t matter how good you are. Forget about the game against Providence and reset for the game against Springfield.’ ”
That’s exactly what Hart did, putting together a solid performance, stopping 24 of 27 shots against the Thunderbirds. Even though the Phantoms lost 3-2, Hart’s ability to bounce back put his team in a position to win.
“Carter has a good ability to block out any negativity and get focused on the task at hand,” Gordon said. “His process of embracing the higher-quality shots was fairly quick as he was able to establish himself in the minors before moving to the NHL.”
Despite this season being cut short, Hart played still played 12 more games compared to 2018-19 with the Flyers, finishing with eight more wins and a lower GAA.
Not surprisingly, if you want to beat Hart, shoot high. Out of the 506 shots directed to the bottom of the net, Hart gave up just 41 goals, highlighting his ability to cover the low posts (.925 SP). He gave up 22 goals on 322 shot locations in the middle of the net, demonstrating his tremendous positioning (.936 SP). Up high, he was scored on 32 times on 101 shots (.759 SP).
There was a similar trend over the round-robin and first round of the playoffs against the Canadiens:
The first round wasn’t without its adversity for Hart. In Game 2, he gave up four goals on 26 shots, resulting in his removal.
He never flinched, however. On the Saturday after the loss, he participated in a pool workout with his teammates, where they competed against each other to see who could hold their breath under the water the longest.
In a bubble environment where hockey is the constant focus, achieving balance away from the rink helps a youthful goalie. Hart secured back-to-back shutouts in Games 3 and 4 for the Flyers, becoming the youngest goalie to record consecutive playoff shutouts since Harry Lumley in 1945 for the Detroit Red Wings.
In Game 6, after giving up five goals in the Game 5 loss, Hart once again responded stopping 31 of 33 shots, giving up zero goals in the third period.
Flyers winger Jakub Voracek told reporters after the Game 3 win that Hart is “oblivious to being a goalie in Philadelphia.” Now, as the Flyers take on the New York Islanders in Round 2, they will lean once again on Hart’s poise and calmness.
For Hart, the criteria remains the same, even as the stakes get higher.
“At the end of the day, you got to go out and play hockey,” Hart told reporters. “Worry about what you can control and focus on one thing. For me, that’s stopping pucks. We all have to embrace our role and focus on our job.”