Hart, Committed Defense Have Flyers Closing in on Series Win
The Flyers have certainly come up with a winning formula throughout the season. It starts in their own zone. Keep the puck out of the dangerous areas, keep it out of the net and let defense turn to offense.
In this series against the Montreal Canadiens, there hasn’t been much offense to come by, typical for playoff hockey that is as tight-checking as this, but the Flyers have certainly gotten the defensive play in the last two games. At the center of it all is 22-year-old Carter Hart, who now has back-to-back shutouts in his first playoff series.
“Hartsy has been an absolute wall for us back there,” Phil Myers said. “He’s so calm. The way he’s playing right now, he’s the best in the league.”
“There’s no doubt that Carter’s a huge part of this. We’re not playing perfect hockey. Without a doubt, when we do make mistakes, he’s been able to get that big save for us,” Alain Vigneault said. “In front of him, also there’s a lot of effort going on there, both to be in the right position and obviously to block shots. There were a couple very desperate plays on our part from guys that got in the way and that’s a big part of finding ways to win. Those defensive plays are as important as the offensive part.”
Hart gathers a lot of the headlines as the netminder, but it really is the commitment of the rest of his teammates. Hart has had to stop 52 shots in the last two games, but his teammates have also accounted for 37 blocked shots. In Game 4, the Flyers had just 13 blocked shots compared to 24 in Game 3, but you just have to look at Robert Hagg’s high block of a Shea Weber blast and Nate Thompson giving up the body on another Weber chance or another blocked shot in the final minute by Michael Raffl to see the dedication that comes with playoff hockey.
“It’s just an extremely hard grind. They defend very well and hard. You get a couple bumps and bruises after every single game, but this is what it comes down to in playoffs,” Raffl said. “It’s not just me. It’s the whole group that’s committed. Everybody helps each other out there. It’s a very good feeling being on the Flyers right now.”
It has to be for Raffl, Hart and the rest of the Flyers. They are up 3-1 in the series against the Canadiens and have a chance to win the franchise’s first playoff series since 2012. While having Hart back there serving as the backstop for two shutout wins gets a lot of attention, Hart is very quick to put it back on his teammates.
“For sure they did. Got a lot of good blocked shots tonight, especially that one with Hagger there, really committing there,” Hart said. “Scary moment. I’m glad he’s okay. Everybody is just committed to winning right now and battling hard.”
Even in this crazy tournament where series are moving quickly, the playoffs in the NHL are still a marathon, and you are bound to take a beating trying to reach the ultimate goal. The Flyers were reminded that an off night doesn’t cut it when they were blown out in Game 2 and looked flat and sloppy defensively. While they still haven’t played their best hockey in the series, they have changed the focus, put even more emphasis on the defensive zone and committed to protecting the net.
“At this time of the year, you have to play well. You have to play that 200-foot game. You have to be committed,” Vigneault said. “Our players are right now. We’ve got another game tomorrow. We need to rest up, get focused for that, come to play and to compete. That’s what we’re going to focus on here in the next 24 hours.”
In the next 24 hours, the Flyers could be moving on and shifting that focus to the second round and a new opponent in their quest for the Stanley Cup.
Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN and Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.