In Return from Injury, Hart Proves to Be Key to Flyers Win
When the Flyers defeated the Boston Bruins back on Jan. 13, rallying for a 6-5 shootout win, it felt like a statement following a road trip full of struggles. The team was back at home and ready to get on a roll with two wins and a tight 1-0 loss to three of the best teams in the league.
Then their worst nightmare happened. Carter Hart left practice the day after with an injury. He would be out for two-to-three weeks.
In one sense, it was perfect timing. The Flyers had just four games left before the All-Star break and bye week and could at least attempt to get by with Brian Elliott. Two-to-three weeks became more like four weeks by the time Hart returned on Monday. That was done on purpose, mainly because the Flyers were playing so well -- 6-2-1 in the nine games Hart missed -- that there was no sense to rush him back.
So in his return to the lineup on Monday, the first game in a stretch of six against teams right in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race, the first shot Hart faced found the net. Hart responded by stopping the next 30 that the Panthers took in the Flyers 4-1 win.
Is it really any surprise that Hart jumped right back in without an issue?
“Well, he had enough time to practice,” Michael Raffl said. “He played very good for us tonight. They had some very good looks and he looked solid.”
“What is it, two weeks and it seems like he didn’t miss a beat,” Ivan Provorov said.
Hart was obviously not the reason alone for the result. The Flyers were very opportunistic on their scoring. They also took a 3-1 lead to the third period and really locked things down to secure the win. But this was more about Hart making a return and immediately looking like the goalie the Flyers will need him to be down the stretch.
The win moved the Flyers back into a playoff spot for the moment. They are two points up on Carolina. They are one point behind Columbus and Tuesday night’s opponent, the New York Islanders. Every game holds incredible significance to the playoff picture.
In his first game back, Hart was probably put to the test more than the Flyers would have liked. Florida regularly found themselves making transition plays, getting odd-man rushes and putting the pressure on Hart to make saves. To his credit, he did every time.
“He’s really good,” Scott Laughton said. “He prepares so well as a young guy and such a good pro. It was good to see him come back and do a really good job for us and make some key saves when we needed them.”
“We gave up a lot of odd man rushes tonight, which we haven’t done in a while. So that part of our game, I feel we need to clean up a little bit,” Alain Vigneault said. “They had some real good looks tonight. Carter made some big saves and on a couple of occasions we were fortunate that they did not execute.”
The reason for Hart’s success in the league has been his detailed preparation. He does everything in his power to be prepared and to be in position to make the saves that he should. That workmanship has put Hart on the fast track to the NHL, not only helping him reach the level, but stay there. So it’s no surprise that Hart used the extra time to prepare for every possible situation in practice before making his return.
“I think I went through all the situations in practice beforehand to make sure it’s time to play and not to worry about anything that’s negative or anything like that,” Hart said. “Just worried about that in practice and went through all these different scenarios that I could to make sure that I’m 100 percent ready.”
Hart will not be in goal on Tuesday night when the Flyers take on the Islanders to close out one of the six remaining back-to-backs left on the schedule, but his next game will likely come against the same Florida Panthers team on the road on Thursday. And he’ll certainly be leaned on from there to help keep the Flyers in the playoff picture.
Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN and Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.