It’s hard to quantify the amount of pressure on Carter Hart’s shoulders ahead of the NHL playoffs. At just 21-years-old, he’s the youngest goalie to have played in more than 20 games this year. Philadelphia’s favorite wonderkid amassed a .914 save percentage in his first full season, ranking 10th overall in wins, while his sensational 20-3-2 record at home helped drive the Flyers into the postseason with a real sense of assertion. But for someone so young to finally make the Stanley Cup playoffs – an occasion in which he’s been preparing for all his life, knowing that a fair chunk of the team’s success rests on his shoulders, it’s understandably a little daunting.
When asked earlier this week about that very pressure, Hart was mature in his response.
I don’t think. Just trying to prepare. We’re all in the stage where we are just coming back into things, gradually ramping things up here. Some guys had more access to ice than others. Some guys were skating all of break. Some guys didn’t really have much access. I think we are all just here trying to prepare for that opening day when it comes.
To be honest, whenever I play I am always nervous before games. That’s just because I care. That’s not at the point where I let it affect me or affect my game. I am sure there will be nerves that come when that first playoff game comes about here. That’s just part of the game of hockey. As a younger player, that’s just part of the steps in your career that you have to take. I think it’s one step that I have been waiting for my whole life. It’s going to be very exciting. Our group here is ready to get things going.
This response isn’t surprising in the slightest though. Hart has been mature beyond his years since first stepping onto the scene in the midst of last season. His goals allowed average has dropped since then, despite playing in 12 more games this year. There has been a learning curve for Hart and the difference between his home and road form are worth nothing, but the refinement of Hart’s game at such a young age and consistent improvement is something that has to be relished.
There’s also reason to believe that Hart will be mentally and emotionally ready to rise up for the occasion. After all, he hasn’t missed the mark when the lights are shining brightest so far.
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.
Yeah, I’ve gone through different experiences in my hockey career. World Juniors, Western Hockey Finals, World Junior Gold Medal games, outdoor games. It’s nothing to the magnitude of me going into my first Stanley Cup playoffs. That’s something that every kid dreams about playing for. I think those experiences I’ve had in the past, World Juniors and stuff, are definitely things that are going to help me going into the playoffs here. It’s a different situation for everybody in the sense that it’s going to be like any other playoffs, playing with no fans, playing in the same location and away from family and friends. It’s something that is going to be different for us and take a little time to adjust to. As professional athletes, that’s our job. We have to overcome those challenges and adapt.
The Flyers will be depending on Hart to keep some of the NHL’s best at bay when the playoffs begin, but is there any reason to doubt his readiness? At this point, the feeling should absolutely be one of pure excitement. Even if Hart’s learning curve steepens this offseason, he’ll have played in his first NHL playoff at age-21. Imagine how beneficial that will be in years to come if this team continues to trend in the right direction. This year’s playoffs are not only beneficial for Hart’s short-term future, but his long-term one too.
Check out some more Flyers Check-In’s with other players below:
Photo Credit: Alex Mcintyre