PITTSBURGH – Even if the Flyers don’t make it to the playoffs this season, there’s one sure thing they won’t have to hang their heads about.
Their goaltending future is set for a long time to come.
While Sunday night’s game was a very small sample of work, it showed a national television audience just how much potential 20-year-old rookie goaltender Carter Hart really has.
Hart turned in one of the best performances of his young NHL career in a nationally televised game against the Penguins at PPG Paints Arena.
The Flyers rallied for a goal with just 18.8 seconds to play in regulation time, then won it in overtime, 2-1, on a goal by Sean Couturier with only 3.4 seconds left on the clock.
The win moves the Flyers back to within six points of a playoff spot with 10 games left on their schedule.
Teddy Blueger’s goal at 2:07 of the third period was the only spot on Hart’s record in regulation time for the night. Blueger knocked in the rebound of a Phil Kessel shot.
James van Riemsdyk scored with Hart on the bench to send the game to overtime.
Just before that, defenseman Ivan Provorov dove to block a Nick Bjugstad try at an empty net with 1:15 to play to basically save the Flyers’ bacon.
The Flyers, who have a flu bug going around their locker room, were playing their third game in four nights.
After Thursday night when he faced Washington and looked shaky (some of which could be attributed to rust from three weeks off due to an ankle injury), Hart bounced back against the turbo-powered Penguins.
He faced down all 26 Pittsburgh shots through two scoreless periods and looked spectacular in the process.
Hart stopped all but one of 42 shots in regulation and overtime.
Was this Hart’s best game of the season? You wouldn’t get an argument from any of the Flyers.
“If we don’t win tonight, that’s a huge hole,’’ coach Scott Gordon said after the game. “We’re definitely running out of time. We needed the two points.
“He (Hart) obviously did a great job tonight.’’
As usual, Hart gave it a little bit of his typical “aw shucks’’ response to any praise.
“I mean for us to come back like that, same as the outdoor game (on Feb. 23, won by the Flyers in OT at Lincoln Financial Field),’’ Hart said. “We really took it to them in the third. It was just very cool to be a part of that.’’
Pittsburgh came at Hart with everything it had and he was equal to the task.
In the second period alone, the Penguins had a half-dozen blue-chip chances.
Hart’s best saves came in a sequence late in the period. First, he was in position to force Bjugstad’s shot to go wide on a clean breakaway.
Moments later, Hart sprawled to somehow turn away a point-blank, back-door effort by Patric Hornqvist, which left the veteran player shaking his head on the bench.
Hart topped it off by denying Kessel’s down low shot from the right hashmarks.
“That shot hit the knob of my stick,’’ Hart said with a grin. “Kessel gave me a funny look.’’
On any other night, Couturier would be deemed the hero. Here, he played second fiddle to Hart. But that’s OK by him.
“I kind of knew there was a bit of time left,’’ Couturier said. “We weren’t happy with our second period. So I thought in the third period we responded really well.’’
Van Riemsdyk is hot as a pistol right now. He’s the only Flyer putting the puck in the net on a consistent basis.
“On that play, you want to have good spacing so they have to make a decision on who to defend,’’ van Riemsdyk said.
The Flyers thought they had a power play goal at 1:11 of the second period when Claude Giroux’s shot eluded goalie Matt Murray.
Officials initially ruled that Jake Voracek had interfered with Murray and waved the goal off. The Flyers challenged and won it when replays showed it was Pittsburgh defenseman Jack Johnson bumped Murray.
But then the Penguins challenged, contesting that the Flyers were offside on the play. And sure enough, Voracek was offside by inches, so the final verdict was “no goal.’’
Gordon shuffled his lines for this game. He put Giroux on a second line (right wing) with Nolan Patrick at center and van Riemsdyk on the left. The first line was centered by Sean Couturier with Oskar Lindblom on left and Voracek on right.
Giroux is battling through the flu but still showed up for work, as he has 236 games in a row.
Was there ever a doubt he would play?
“Big game,’’ Giroux said. “I think anyone in this locker room would have done the same thing. If you had asked me last night, I don’t know if I would have been playing. Our trainers did a good job.’’
Pittsburgh was without star players Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang. Andrew MacDonald was a healthy scratch for the Flyers, who return to action at home on Tuesday against Montreal. They will have a day off Monday. . .The Flyers got hit with two too-many-men/ice penalties.