SUNRISE, Fla. – Carter Hart was less than seven minutes away from his first NHL shutout, but as they say, hockey isn’t horseshoes and close doesn’t count.
The rookie goalie played the best positional game of his young NHL career but it wasn’t enough. The Flyers took a 1-0 lead into the closing minutes yet couldn’t hang on.
A hooking penalty to James van Riemsdyk led to Mike Hoffman’s tying goal with 6:44 to play.
Then Florida won it on a goal by Jonathan Huberdeau with 1:06 left in regulation time.
The Flyers, 2-1 losers in this game, were extremely upset with themselves on the winning goal, which was created by a three-on-two rush. The Philadelphia defense was not in proper position and Huberdeau scored off a set-up from Aleksander Barkov.
“I think we shot ourselves in the foot there,’’ defenseman Radko Gudas said. “We had the game under control, we were doing lots of good things. We handled them pretty well and then we just collapsed.
“We just have to pay more attention to the details. A controlled breakout and it ends up in our net. That’s unacceptable.
For most of the game, the Panthers couldn’t figure out Hart.
Time and again, Hart stood his ground as the Panthers came at him in waves, including a 40-second stretch in the first period when Florida was on a five-on-three advantage.
Hart, who was rested since last Saturday’s loss to Columbus, was sharp from the outset and made big saves early on Aaron Ekblad and Evgenii Dadonov.
He finished stopping 34 of 36 shots (.944 save percentage).
For the season, Hart now has maintained a scoreless streak through two minutes and 40 seconds of five-on-three penalty kill situations.
In his post-game comments, Hart kept an even demeanor.
“I felt sharp,’’ he said. “We just have to put this behind us.’’
On the deciding goal?
“I think I just need to bear down harder,’’ he said. “I felt confident in the net. We did a good job of limiting their chances.’’
The players who spoke after the game felt bad for Hart. Obviously they wasted a great performance and lost at least a valuable point in the process.
“He (Hart) was there for us, like the five on three,’’ Gudas said. “We let him down, that’s for sure.’’
Added coach Scott Gordon: “Carter played a great game. Even his reaction on the goals was right on. It’s unfortunate the power-play goal they got.’’
Did Gordon think the penalty on van Riemsdyk was a legitimate call? JVR said he had only one hand on his stick.
“I can’t disagree with him,’’ Gordon said. “I think by the time (the Florida player) went down, he was holding the (JVR) stick.’’
Clearly, van Riemsdyk was upset.
“We didn’t come away with a point, it’s frustrating, it’s disappointing,’’ van Riemsdyk said. “I didn’t agree with the ruling on that (penalty). That’s life sometimes. They have a good power play, they found a way to capitalize.’’
Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, a native of Pembroke Pines, Fla. and playing in front of family and friends, scored at 1:45 of the first period to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead.
How much fun was that?
“That was cool,’’ Gostisbehere said.
Gostisbehere took a pass from Jordan Weal and beat goalie James Reimer from 20 feet away in the left circle.
Weal was making his first start since Dec. 15 in a game at Vancouver but showed no signs of rust.
“It happened quick,’’ Gostisbehere said. “It was a five-man play which started below our goal line. I popped it to Hagger (Robert Hagg) and he kept on moving it and it worked out well.”
The Flyers are now 1-1-1 on their five-game road trip.
Gostisbehere now has three goals in 10 career games against the Panthers. . .Flyers had only two power plays in this game, both in the third period. . .Philadelphia is off Sunday, then plays at Carolina on Monday and Nashville on Tuesday. . .The Flyers blocked 21 shots and were 43-19 on faceoffs.