MONTREAL – Kid Goalie vs. his idol. That would be Carter Hart, the Flyers’ 20-year-old wunderkind, vs. Montreal’s Carey Price, 31, long regarded as one of the NHL’s best goaltenders.
By a mile.
For the second straight game, Hart allowed three goals on nine shots and was pulled.
For the second straight game, the Flyers faced an early 3-0 deficit and couldn’t recover.
Montreal 5, Flyers 1.
Brendan Gallagher scored his first career hat trick, and Price stopped 29 of 30 shots, as the speedier Canadiens coasted to the win at the Bell Centre. In the process, they handed the turnover-plagued Flyers consecutive losses for the first time since Jan. 7 and 8.
Price was serenaded with chants of “Car-ey Car-ey, Car-ey” when he robbed Scott Laughton on a rebound attempt late in the second period. Those same fans sarcastically cheered Hart after he stopped a long shot with the Flyers in a quick 2-0 hole.
The Flyers, who had their five-game road winning streak snapped, slipped seven points behind Carolina for the final playoff spot.
Brian Elliott relieved a shaky Hart for the second straight game.
“There were obviously a couple bounces that didn’t go my way,” Hart said. “You look at these past two games, and you put it behind you and learn from it.”
Interim coach Scott Gordon wasn’t down on Hart.
“We didn’t give him a chance to even get in the game with the chances we gave up right off the bat,” he said.
Winger James van Riemsdyk also defended Hart.
“We’re not in the position we’re in without him,” he said, referring to a recent 12-1-1 run sparked by the goalie. “He’s come in and does a tremendous job. There are games like that when there are going to be tough bounces. Again, he has nothing to hang his head on. He’s been unbelievable since he got here.”
The Flyers ended Price’s bid for his 44th career shutout when Michael Raffl scored on a deflection with 9 minutes, 37 seconds left in the game.
Montreal had three odd-man rushes in the first three-plus minutes, as it took advantage of the Flyers’ sloppy defensive play. The Flyers were missing rugged defenseman Radko Gudas, who served the first game of his two-game suspension.
Gallagher finished a three-on-two by scoring from the right circle 58 seconds after the opening faceoff. It was the Canadiens’ first shot of the game.
Two minutes and 13 seconds later, they scored on their second shot, as Jasperi Kotkaniemi took a pass from Paul Byron and beat Hart on a two-on-one after defenseman Travis Sanheim got caught out of position.
It marked the 23rd time the Flyers have faced a 2-0 deficit this season. They have won just three of those games.
“We get scored on on two horrible neutral-zone forechecks, and that set the tone for the game,” Gordon said.
Gallagher scored from the side of the net, somehow squeezing a puck past Hart on the short side with 9:27 to go in the first, increasing the Habs’ lead to 3-0.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever been beaten like that,” Hart said.
Exit Hart. Enter Elliott.
Hart, who made 33 saves and keyed a 5-2 win in Montreal on Jan. 19, lasted just 10:33 this time. He lasted just 10:23 in Tuesday’s 5-2 home loss to Tampa Bay.
Gallagher, after taking a slick feed from Andrew Shaw, scored on a backhander from the slot with 17:04 remaining in the second period to complete his hat trick. A little less than four minutes later, Thomas Tatar put a move on Nolan Patrick to get free in the high slot and beat Elliott, putting the Habs ahead, 5-0.
This was not how the Flyers wanted to start a four-game stretch in which they play teams they are chasing in the playoff hunt: Montreal, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, and Columbus.
Gordon spent the night juggling his pairings and lines to get something going, but nothing worked.
Before the game, Gordon said that unless something unforeseen happened, he was planning to use Hart in Saturday’s Stadium Series matchup against the Penguins at Lincoln Financial Field.
Will getting shelled in two straight games change his thinking?
Will the Flyers’ shrinking playoff chances spur general manager Chuck Fletcher to be a seller by Monday’s trade deadline?