On Off Night, Flyers Find a Way
After winning eight straight games and looking dominant throughout the winning streak, at some point, you knew there would be a game where the Flyers just didn't have their best. It wasn't too much of a surprise that the Flyers had a slow start, a common trend throughout the season, but the second and early part of the third were not their best either.
Yet, there they were, scoring the first goal of the game midway through the second period and breaking a 1-1 tie midway through the third. With a tremendous performance from their goaltender and some opportunistic goals, the Flyers once again found a way, extending their winning streak to nine games and remaining in a tie for the Metro Division lead with a 3-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres.
"Two things," Alain Vigneault said. "Good teams find ways to win and Carter Hart. At the end of the day, our goaltender was the best player on the ice and kept our team in."
From the beginning, Hart was tested. When the Sabres played in Philadelphia in December, they finished the game with 17 shots. Hart stopped 13 in the first period alone. He added another 25 over the final two periods. The only goal he allowed was a backdoor slam dunk for Dominik Kahun off a quick passing play.
But Hart stood tall otherwise on odd-man rushes, partial breakaways, and even a stretch late in the game where he lost both his stick and his blocker and still made two saves.
"They came at us pretty hard all game," Claude Giroux said. "We kept our composure, Carter made some huge saves for us obviously and when we had a chance to put it in, we did."
"I think Carter all along, since the beginning of the season, has had some real good moments and challenging moments on the road. Fought through it, played better, team's playing better," Vigneault said. "This happens with good teams. They find ways to win and a lot of nights when they do win, the goaltender made the difference. He's the one player on any team on any given night that can make a huge difference. Tonight, there's no doubt that Carter was that difference."
The Flyers winning streak this season has been different than last season's eight-game winning streak for sure. There isn't a desperation to this winning streak. Points still matter greater, but they really no longer matter to the team's playoff hopes. They have built a cushion and are almost a certainty to be playing beyond the regular season. But if they want to challenge for the division title or at least secure home ice in the first round, then there is a lot at stake.
In either case, Hart has been at the center of both, and that's produced some NHL history. Hart had a personal eight-game winning streak last season as a rookie and now has a personal seven-game winning streak with his best performance of the Flyers current run. With Saturday's win, he became the only goalie in NHL history to post two personal seven-game winning streaks prior to turning 22.
It certainly won't be the last time the Flyers call on Hart to be their best player down the stretch. With the Bruins and Lightning on the schedule next week, the Flyers will be put to the test and Hart will almost definitely be the one in goal to try to keep the winning ways going. For the Flyers to gain wins in one or both of those games, they may need Hart to be their best player again.
"Just playing the game and having fun," Hart said. "That's probably the biggest thing with us right now is that we're enjoying coming to the rink. The group we've had, we've always been like that. We push each other, we know when to focus and when to work hard. I think it's important that we keep it light and have fun."
For most of this stretch, it has been fun. There have been smiles and laughs. There has been a lot of looseness. The Flyers were certainly a loose team through the first 40 minutes and sweated this one out, but they were able to find a way with some timely goals. Giroux broke the ice with his 20th goal of the season in the second, then perfectly timed a one-timer out of mid-air to give the Flyers the lead midway through the first. Just when it seemed like the Flyers would be preparing for a final push from Buffalo, a team that has now lost six straight games, Joel Farabee took advantage of a misplay by Carter Hutton and put it through the five-hole to make it 3-1 and seal the result.
"Sometimes you just don’t play your best and you win. Sometimes you play your best and you lose, that’s just the way it is," Jake Voracek said. "Right now, everything we touch is working. We were due for a game like that, let’s be honest, it is impossible to be on top of your game throughout the season. Like I said, the difference is that you find a way to win instead of getting beat. Good two points, we hang with Washington and we got a big one on Tuesday."