While an important two points in the standings were up for grabs, the biggest takeaway from Saturday night’s game was a resounding comeback effort from Carter Hart.
The Flyers’ third-year goalie, who was benched for two games in order to work on his game over the past five days, turned in perhaps his best performance of the season in a 3-2 shootout loss to the New York Islanders.
Hart didn’t face that many shots – just eight through two periods and 19 for the game in regulation time – but a majority were of the gold standard variety.
After allowing a goal in each of the first two periods, the 22-year-old Hart stopped the Islanders cold the rest of regulation and overtime. He allowed only one goal in the shootout, to Matthew Barzal, but that was the difference-maker.
Claude Giroux scored twice in a third-period comeback as the Flyers bounced back from a 6-1 beating by the woeful Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday night.
Simply put, the Flyers needed to get their overall game back to a higher level, particularly with three games coming up against one of two teams they’re chasing, the Boston Bruins (New York Rangers the other), for the final playoff spot in the East Division.
They absolutely must have Hart at the top of his game in order to get back into the playoff hunt.
“He (Hart) played well tonight,’’ coach Alain Vigneault said in a post-game media Zoom call from Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y. “He did what we expected a goaltender to do, give your team a chance, and he did that.’’
Anthony Beauvillier scored both New York goals to provide a 2-0 lead. Hart really had no chance on either.
“We needed Carter to come up big for us tonight and he did,’’ Vigneault said.
Hart worked diligently with goaltending instructor Kim Dillabaugh the past week and looked much more confident in net than he had during the month of March.
“He’s had some good workouts,’’ Vigneault said. “Yesterday, when I asked him if was ready, it was a definite ‘yes.’
“In my estimation, it showed tonight. He was determined and he made some big saves at the right time for us.’’
Giroux agreed this is the Hart they need down the stretch.
“Carter was solid tonight,’’ Giroux said. “He was battling, he was finding the puck. He made some big saves for us. When we were down 2-0 he made some huge saves. Carter didn’t look like he had a lot of shots but the shots he did face were quality.’’
Hart didn’t reveal any specific areas that he worked on with Dillabaugh to cause him to be so sharp again.
Just getting away from game action for a few days might have helped.
“Got a mental breather,’’ Hart said. “I just came to practice everyday, not pouting, having fun with the boys – competing, battling.
“Showing up for work everyday with my hard hat and lunch pail.’’
Jake Voracek appreciated the effort.
“I think Carter was really good,’’ Voracek said. “He kept us in the game, made a lot of big saves on not a lot of shots, which is not always easy for the goaltender when he doesn’t see action.’’
Suffice to say, the Flyers need to keep this level of play going when they face the Bruins on Monday night in Boston and Tuesday night in Philadelphia.
“If you look at five-on-five, I liked our game, I liked our game defensively,’’ Vigneault said. “We didn’t have that many turnovers, mistakes. . .we were on the right side of the puck.
“We generated enough chances, in my estimation, to win this game. We were down by two. Our captain (Giroux) made two big plays to tie up the game.’’
Giroux said the Flyers no longer have much of a margin for error. Although they came up short of two points, this game might have been a step in the right direction.
“I think where we’re at this point in the season, it’s disappointing not to get the second point,’’ he said. “But saying that, I think our game today was our best in a while.
“We need to build on this.’’
>Voracek talks about big upcoming games
“We’ve got a huge week coming up,’’ Voracek said. “We got to focus on that.’’
The Flyers are 0-3-2 against Boston this year so these final three games mean a lot.
“We just have to prepare,’’ he said. “The season is on the line. We are in a big hole. We can’t afford to lose any games, basically. That’s the way it is. We shot ourselves in the foot.
“We have to make sure we bring the same intensity the next game.’’
>Glove hand better for Hart
During his struggles in March, Hart was giving up a lot of goals on his glove hand side. In this match, he was just about flawless on that flank.
“I just kind of tracked the puck,’’ he said. “Shots came to my glove, I caught ‘em and it felt good. It always feels good when you make the save.’’
>Shootout struggles continue
It’s not secret the Flyers have been costing themselves points ever since the inception of the shootout. Saturday night’s loss was no exception.
They are now 1-3 for the season and the worst team, percentage-wise, in the history of the tiebreaker. They have an alltime record of 51-90, which is a brutal .362 win percentage. The next-worst team is .423. Overall, the Flyers have scored 133 goals in shootouts and allowed 185.
>By the numbers
Tanner Laczynski made his NHL debut. He recorded one shot, one hit, one blocked shot and went 3-for-6 on faceoffs in 8:17 of ice time. He became the fifth member of the Flyers’ 2016 draft class to appear in an NHL game and is the first player selected by the Flyers in the sixth round or later to debut with them since the 2010-11 season, when two players did so – Eric Wellwood (6th round in 2009, debut Nov. 1, 2010) and Zac Rinaldo (6th round in 2008, debut April 22, 2011 in playoffs).