Even if there aren’t fans in the stands, a goalie’s slow skate to the bench after getting pulled from a game is never any fun.
Carter Hart didn’t get mad, he got even.
The Flyers goalie, who surrendered four goals in a 5-0 defeat by Montreal on Friday, turned things around quickly in Sunday night’s Game 3.
Hart registered one of the best performances of his young career, stopping all 23 Canadien shots in a 1-0 win at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. He becomes the youngest goaltender in Flyers history to record a playoff shutout.
The Flyers take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series which resumes with Game 4 Tuesday afternoon, 3 p.m.
It was the first playoff shutout for a Flyers goalie since Michel Neuvirth blanked the Washington Capitals, 2-0, at D.C. on April 22, 2016.
The Flyers have not lost back-to-back games since January.
Jake Voracek, who scored the only goal of the game, said one of Hart’s special qualities is the ability to put losses behind him and block outside distractions.
“It’s a good thing that he’s oblivious to some things as a goalie in Philadelphia,’’ said a smiling Voracek during a post-game Zoom call. Voracek was referencing how tough a fan base and media climate exist in the City of Brotherly Love. “He’s really strong mentally. He’s a young kid who works really hard.
“He was very impressive with the way he bounced back. Even since last year, if he had a bad game, he always came back and he was strong. That’s what good goalies do. Sometimes you have a tough night. . .the last game we played really bad, didn’t help him much. The way he played today, it was a goalies’ battle, let’s be honest – two of the best goalies (including Carey Price) going at it. It could have gone either way.’’
Coach Alain Vigneault admitted the Flyers might have relied on Hart a bit more than they wanted to.
“It was a greasy hockey game,’’ Vigneault noted. “Sometimes you get these where guys are working extremely hard, not giving the opposition or getting a lot of room. You just have to grease it out. That’s what we did. We scored that goal, Carter made some big saves. We’ll try to learn from it and get better next game.’’
Hart gave credit to the defenders in front of him. The Flyers blocked 24 shots compared to just 10 for Montreal.
“I think we all responded,’’ he said. “The last game was nowhere near what we’re capable of. It was nice to get the first goal there.
“Our group is very resilient. It was awesome to have Oskar (Lindblom, the cancer survivor who took part in the morning skate and attended the game) here. We really look forward to having him join us soon. I think that provided a little spark.’’
In contrast to Game 2, the Flyers played a much more physical game, matching the Canadiens check for check. Also, the Flyers’ forechecking was much more aggressive, not allowing Montreal to pressure the Philadelphia defense as much.
Voracek gave the Flyers the early lead with a goal at 5:21 of the first period and Hart made it stand up.
Claude Giroux started the scoring sequence. His hard entry from the left circle appeared to deflect into Voracek, then pop into the net past Price. The goal ended a 95-minute goal-less drought dating back to Game 1.
From there, Hart was stellar, constantly cleaning up Flyers’ defensive mistakes, including two horrible turnovers by Scott Laughton, one in each of the first two periods.
Vigneault made some lineup changes for this game. Up front, Michael Raffl was added and Joel Farabee was scratched. Raffl had not played since suffering a lower-body injury in the preseason game against Pittsburgh last month.
Also, defenseman Robert Hagg returned to action in place of Shayne Gostisbehere. Hagg offered a much greater physical presence.
After the morning skate, Vigneault emphasized the importance of Hagg’s contributions.
“There’s no doubt that Robert down the stretch was a big part,’’ the coach said. “We had some injuries on our back end. He played a smart, simple, physical brand, protecting the front of our net. He’s the ultimate team player.’’
The blocked shots were important.
“It’s a big part of the game,’’ Hagg said. “It’s what you have to do to win games. Everyone did a great job with that tonight and we have to keep doing it.’’
Once again the Flyers’ power play struggled, coming up empty in six chances, including wasting a four-minute opportunity in the first period after Nate Thompson was bloodied with a high stick. The Flyers managed only two shots during that double man-advantage chance.
For the playoffs, the Flyers are just 1 for 25.
“It’s not good,’’ Voracek said. “When you get so many close opportunities like that, we need to sit down and figure this out. I’m not going to lie, it’s a little frustrating, for sure.’’