If Carter Hart experienced any nervousness in his first “official’’ Stanley Cup playoff game Wednesday night, it certainly didn’t show.
On the eve of his 22nd birthday the Flyers goaltender looked calm and composed against the Montreal Canadiens, leading them to a 2-1 win at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.
The victory gives the top-seeded Flyers a 1-0 edge in the best-of-seven opening round series, which resumes Friday afternoon, 3 p.m.
Hart, who stopped all but one of 28 shots, was at his best in a hectic second period which saw the speedy Canadiens swarm the Flyers’ net.
Yet the only goal Hart allowed came on a Montreal power play, with All-Star defenseman Shea Weber blasting a can’t-miss shot into an open net at 14:38. That tied the score at 1-1.
Fortunately for the Flyers, rookie Joel Farabee responded just 16 seconds later when he deflected Travis Sanheim’s point shot into Montreal goaltender Carey Price’s pads, then put back the rebound at 14:54 for his second goal of the playoffs.
At times, Hart was spectacular, finding pucks through traffic and guiding them out of harm’s way.
“We’re in the playoffs right now, so it’s crunch time,’’ Hart said after the game on a Zoom call. “We know that Montreal is a good team. They come hard. I thought tonight was a good battle between both teams.
“Whenever there’s a good battle on the ice, it feels rewarding in the end. That was a hard-fought win by us.’’
Coach Alain Vigneault has come to expect these kinds of clutch performances.
“I’ve gotten to know Carter,’’ Vigneault said. “I’ve gotten to know how he sees the game and handles the situation. He’s been through big games before so he’s just going out there and doing what he’s supposed to do and that’s a chance to win games.’’
The Flyers jumped on top at 8:54 of the first period when they scored their first power-play goal of the postseason. With Jake Voracek setting a screen in front of Price, Ivan Provorov fired a shot from the point which found its way into the net.
Philadelphia was 0 for 11 on the power play prior to that goal.
However, Montreal staged quite a comeback in the second and looked like it had taken over the momentum. Then came the third period and the Flyers held the Canadiens to just six shots in that final frame.
What made the difference?
“I think we just didn’t play our game in the second period,’’ Provorov said. “We turned the puck over at the blue line, turned the puck over in our zone. That kind of created momentum for them. They had a lot of possession. . .that’s why they were able to create chances.
“Hartsy did a great job, he kept us in the game. When we came out for the third, we finally started to play our game. We put the puck deep, we forechecked and we had a few power plays help us to create some momentum and keep playing our game.’’
Hart said the gravity of playing in his first real playoff game never really struck him.
“Honestly, it was just prepare the same,’’ he said. “I think coming into the playoffs, it’s a different situation for everybody. You just have to prepare that like it’s any other game.’’
Sean Couturier said Hart’s work ethic is a key to his success.
“He has a lot of potential,’’ Couturier said. “He does a lot of little things right, on and off the ice. You can just respect that from a young guy. He’s doing all he can just to get better.’’
Voracek returned to action after missing the final round robin game (a 4-1 win over Tampa Bay) and played on the third line with Derek Grant and Nicolas Aube-Kubel.
Also, Shayne Gostisbehere started on the third defense pairing, with Robert Hagg sitting this one out.
Farabee played on the top line with Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux. James van Riemsdyk was moved down to the fourth line with Nate Thompson and Tyler Pitlick.
Provorov said the Flyers were more aggressive on the power play than they had been in the round robin.
“We were more direct, funneling the puck to the net,’’ he said. “Shots from the top and that helped us to create chances.’’
As for Farabee’s performance, Provorov was quick with the compliments.
“He’s been great for us,’’ Provorov said. “It’s his first playoff but it doesn’t look like it. He’s been making plays, scoring, helping us big time. He deserves to play on that line.’’
Farabee was asked if he’s been a bit star-struck playing with Couturier and Giroux. Vigneault is showing him a lot of faith.
“Obviously playing with Coots and G, they’re two world-class players,’’ Farabee said. “It’s a lot of fun playing with them. Hopefully we can keep this momentum going.’’