MONTREAL – Carter Hart got robbed Saturday night.
Not in the game. That played out wonderfully, the Flyers' 20-year-old rookie stopping 33 shots -- including 12 in a scoreless first period -- as the Flyers extended their winning streak to three games with a 5-2 victory over the Canadiens.
The steal came afterwards, when Hart was awarded only the game’s third star, behind first star Nolan Patrick (two goals) and second star Travis Konecny (goal, assist).
Instead of receiving five points in the Flyers Toyota Cup race, Hart received one. Instead of closing to within seven points of Cup leader and perennial champ Claude Giroux (31 points), Hart’s lead over Patrick shrunk to one, 20-19.
Konecny is in seventh place with 13.
It’s a bit amazing and no doubt revealing that Hart, who has played in just a dozen games since being summoned from Lehigh Valley on Dec. 17, is bearing down on Giroux, the team’s lone All-Star. It’s also revealing that Patrick, who struggled for much of this season before a recent production surge, is sitting right behind him.
Other than Giroux, there haven’t been too many Flyers worthy of postgame recognition for much of this season. But Hart’s arrival, which coincided with interim coach Scott Gordon’s arrival, has flipped that equation. The Flyers' recent victories have been notable for the range of contributors, for their resilience, and for who their opponents have been. Minnesota, Boston, and Montreal are all bubble playoff teams that could not afford to forfeit the two points the Flyers were habitually providing.
``That first period Carter gave us a chance to be even,’’ Gordon said after Saturday’s victory. Montreal outshot the Flyers 12-1 in that period and Hart’s acrobatics wowed even the hostile Bell Centre crowd. ``In the first period, they were the better team," Gordon said. "Wasn’t even close.’’
Hart is 4-2 over his last six games with a 2.54 goals-against average and .930 save percentage. In their three consecutive victories last week, the Flyers were outshot 115-70 yet outscored teams 16-9.
On the other hand, maybe it’s better off the kid doesn’t get his just desserts, doesn’t track down and surpass Giroux over the team’s final 34 games. The first goalie to win the Toyota Cup was Roman Cechmanek, in its initial season of 2000-01.
And no one, but no one, is interested in Hart becoming the next Roman Cechmanek.
He is far from that, of course. He is selfless, supportive, deflects credit to his teammates as well as he deflects pucks, and has, in a short time, developed a devotion from them that has induced a refreshing, selling-out attitude despite their place in the standings.
If he stays healthy, that position is likely to change.
Patrick would have made Flyers history Saturday night if the other shot he took in the game had found the back of the net. They have never recorded hat tricks in three consecutive games. Sean Couturier had a hat trick in the 4-3 victory over the Bruins Wednesday and James van Riemsdyk had a hat trick in last Monday’s 7-4 victory over Minnesota. Patrick had two goals in that win.
Patrick posted his third career two-goal game, his second of the week. He registered three shots on goal. Had one more crossed the goal line, it would have made Flyers history.
Gordon referred to ``tip of the iceberg’’ in describing Patrick’s improved play this week. He has spoken to the second overall pick in the 2017 draft of maintaining a high pace throughout the game rather than in spots.
Patrick was asked about that after Saturday night’s victory in Montreal.
``I think I’m capable of much more,’’ he said. ``Obviously, I’m not a guy who stepped into the league and lit it up right away. But I think that’s something that’s going to make me a better player in the long run.’’