The 35th shot from the Dallas Stars finally crossed the Flyers goal line with 2:51 left in Thursday’s game. Jamie Benn grabbed a flubbed pass from Tyler Seguin cutting through the slot and whipped the puck just off of Carter Hart’s glove, cutting the Flyers hard-fought and slightly fortuitous two-goal lead in half.
The puck trickled in, Seguin checked the clock and told his teammates, "We still have time.’’ These were the Flyers after all, a team whose resume included a blown two-goal lead with 66 seconds left, a losing home record, and of course, an eight-game losing streak.
It is a team that has battled confidence, consistency, even at times, its own fans. When the second period horn sounded Thursday, Jake Voracek, taking exception to coaching from fans along the glass, pivoted angrily and told them in colorful language that their advice to "shoot it’’ was not needed or appreciated.
But that’s where this team finds itself amid a disappointing season that has already cost the team’s coach and architect their jobs, a team whose current general manager appears to be surgically attached to his cell phone before, during and after games as he explores ways to change or charge this team.
Amid all this comes the 20-year-old Hart, wearing the gee-whiz grin of someone who snuck into the Flyers locker room. "I just love it here,’’ he said after Benn and the boys repeatedly tested him in the waning moments of Thursday’s 2-1 victory. "When I came up here, they were very welcoming.’’
There’s a good reason for that of course. Hart was No. 5 in the Flyers seven-goalie parade this season, and if any one of the first four had been able to handle the workload he already has handled, he might have been the last. The Flyers may have cascaded to the bottom of the standings in large part to this parade, but any remaining relevance to their season lies heavily in the quick but steady hands of their kid goalie.
That’s what made the final minute Thursday night so relevant. Hart had stoned Benn and the boys for most of the game, made an incredible save on Dallas defenseman John Klingberg in the slot during the second period. Dallas threw 31 shots at Hart over the final two periods including 18 in the third, but the kid was a clinic out there, deflecting lesser ones harmlessly into the corner, freezing pucks when he sensed the need for a stoppage, staying in the moment always.
After praising the kid early, Benn, ever the gamesman, skated past him later and said, "You’re getting lucky buddy.’’
Hart liked that a lot, much to Benn’s chagrin. "He’s another one of those players I watched growing up,’’ Hart said. "It’s pretty cool to hear that from him.’’
"He’s got ice in his veins it seems like,’’ James van Riemsdyk was saying about Hart afterwards. "Just goes about his business. I’d be curious to see what his heart rate gets to, especially at the end there. But he seems so cool under pressure.’’
It permeates a team, said JVR. It’s why teams always talk about rebuilding from the back forward, why Ron Hextall, in his first few years as the Flyers GM, went heavy on goalies and defensemen. Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, Sam Morin, Philippe Myers, Felix Sandstrom – it’s a stream more than a one-time purchase.
Provorov’s solid play last season was a big piece to their playoff run, and his struggles this season are part of a scalp-scratching regression by many of the Flyers young players. It was only a game, just one win to break a streak of eight losses, but the team-wide sellout – both Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere absorbed numerous bone-crushing hits to advance pucks from their zone – reflected a belief that any postgame icing might not be in vain.
"Certainly when you have a young goalie in there who is making big stops and has that coolness to him,’’ said JVR. "You definitely can feel that on the ice. For whatever reason.’’
So there’s your most compelling story line for the 38 remaining games this season. Will the Flyers finally get some luck with goaltending? Scrutinized as a teenage phenom, jammed into this undesirable scenario to start his NHL career, can his cool stand the heat?
He smiled when someone asked this – again – Thursday night.
"I just try to approach things one play at a time,’’ he said. "You can’t get too carried away with whatever happens. Just got to compete. Sometimes when the puck’s in our zone for awhile or there’s pucks around our net it’s just pure compete.
"That goes for all of our players: Competing and selling out to do the job. You just have to worry about your own game and make sure you come to the rink every day and do your job and work hard. This is the best league in the world. There’s great players on every team. You have to keep evolving your game and make sure you stay on top of your game. Fine-tune all the little details.’’