Carter Hart’s first full NHL season has been one that has finally inspired hope around the goaltending position in Philadelphia. The 21-year-old has been nothing short of excellent this season, but now faces a scenario like no other. Not only is he going into his first ever NHL playoff run, but is doing so in the most surreal circumstances the league has ever seen.
That hasn’t dented Alain Vigneault’s confidence in him whatsoever, and rightly so.
I’m confident with him and with support from Brian, it’s a great tandem. Right now Carter is preparing himself, we’re going to have those four games once we get to Toronto. I’ve really seen Carter grow, and I think this is the right time for him.
Hart was a different beast at the Wells Fargo Center this year, going 20-3-2, allowing 1.63 goals per game and amassing a .945 save percentage. If you contrast this to his 4-10-1 record, 3.81 GAA, and .857 save percentage on the road, you can see why many would at least fully understand such a young player to take a while to settle when the team land in Toronto. Vigneault fully expects his star goaltender to hit the ground running though, and that should inspire confidence.
Without a doubt, experience is experience, it’s important, but the fact that he has played before, he has played big games, I think he’s going to come into this with the right mindset. I really like the progression that he’s had throughout the year. He had some real good moments, he had some challenging moments, and he faced them head on. I think he’s excited and looking forward to this opportunity, and I’m really confident that he’s going to do a really good job.
Hart is no stranger to adverse situations and shining under the brightest lights. He won Gold with Canada at the World Juniors and enjoyed plenty of success with the Silvertips, including 26 shutouts that tied a CHL record. The exposure to neutral sites and high-pressure environments not only prepared Hart well for his rookie season, but for another new challenge in what lies ahead.
He even started the season on neutral ice, saving 28 of 31 shots to earn a win over the Chicago Blackhawks in Prague at the 02 arena. When talking with him before the game, Hart shared a similar ‘icy’ mentality about it simply being just another game.
“Going through all those experiences helped me transition last year.” He explained. “Tomorrow night is just a regular-season game, it doesn’t matter if it’s here, Philly, or Chicago. It’s back on NHL Ice. There’s a lot of hype around the global series but we have to prepare the same way.”
Hart is incredibly mature for a 21-year-old and although this is going to be the biggest stage he’s performed on yet, his head has always seemed to be in the right place when preparing for those life-changing moments. Behind him is a season where he posted the league’s eighth-best GAA and recorded 24 wins. Ahead of him could well be the first of many playoff runs in an exciting career.
Photo Credit: Alex Mcintyre