At the All-Star break, it would have been foolish to think that the Flyers were going to play in the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring.
Now, with their rookie goalie making jaw-dropping saves, it doesn’t seem so far-fetched.
Oh, they still have a long climb ahead of them. But after they defeated Vancouver, 2-1, on Monday night at the electric Wells Fargo Center, and won their eighth straight game, their playoff possibilities are growing.
Carter Hart, the precocious 20-year-old who has orchestrated the turnaround, made a career-high 41 saves and became the fourth goalie in NHL history to win seven straight games before his 21st birthday – and the first since Montreal’s Carey Price in 2008.
“I played against him a few times in junior, and obviously I knew he was good,” said center Nolan Patrick, who helped set up the Flyers' first goal. “He was highly talked about, but I didn’t know he was that good. He’s going to be a superstar for a long time.”
Only Quebec’s Jocelyn Thibault, who had eight straight wins from March 6 to 26, 1995, had more consecutive victories than Hart at such a young age.
Sean Couturier and Jake Voracek scored for the Flyers, who were 14 points out of a playoff spot at the All-Star break and are now just five points behind.
Hart, who had 40 saves in his previous start, made a spectacular diving stop on Nikolay Goldobin’s power-play rebound with 5 minutes, 32 seconds left to preserve the 2-1 lead and ignite chants of “Car-ter. ... Car-ter. ... Car-ter.”
Couturier was in the penalty box at the time.
“He’s been remarkable,” Couturier said. “That save at the end; he’s making almost some miracles out there and it’s nice to have him back there. He can steal one, and I’m just thankful they didn’t score on that power play.”
“I just dove across and was hoping it hit me and it did,” Hart said with a smile.
For the Flyers, it was the 2,000th win in franchise history. They became the first team from the 1967-68 expansion to reach the milestone, and they reached 2,000 wins in the second-fewest games in NHL history.
Voracek, sprung on a breakaway by Phil Varone, scored on a pretty forehand-backhand-forehand move to give the Flyers a 2-0 lead with 16:40 left in the second.
Nearly two minutes later, Hart came about 30 feet out of his net and knocked the puck away from Brandon Sutter near the top of the left circle, preventing a breakaway. He shot the puck off the boards, but Brock Boeser picked up the carom and fired a shot past defenseman Travis Sanheim and into an empty net, cutting the deficit to 2-1.
The Flyers had taken a 1-0 lead on Couturier’s sixth goal in his last nine games.
Taking a cross-ice feed from Travis Konecny, Couturier scored from the left circle as he whipped a shot under 6-foot-6 Jacob Markstrom’s glove and into the right corner with 1:23 left in the first. It was the Flyers’ seventh power-play goal in their last nine chances over three games. They finished 1-for-3 with the man advantage.
Couturier recently moved from the first to the second power-play unit.
“It gives us a different look,” Konecny said, “and he’s been a difference-maker for our unit.”
“We have two units that are pretty balanced,” Couturier said.
The Flyers lost in Vancouver, 5-1, on Dec. 15, the last game for coach Dave Hakstol. Scott Gordon replaced him before the Flyers' next game and now has a 12-8-2 record as the interim coach.
With 10:22 left in regulation and the Flyers holding a 2-1 lead, it appeared Vancouver’s Alexander Edler’s stick got caught on Voracek’s skate and his face hit the ice. There was lots of blood on the ice near the side of the Canucks' net, and the team had no immediate update after the game.
Edler was given a standing ovation as he was helped off the ice on a stretcher and players from both teams tapped the ice with their sticks to show their support.
The Flyers, who became the first team since Columbus in 2014-15 to have eight-game winning and losing streaks in the same season, are oozing with confidence as they get closer in the playoff hunt.