Improbable. Many would say just that about the Montreal Canadiens run to the Stanley Cup Finals. Coming into the playoffs, Montreal had the least amount of regular-season points among all playoff teams with 59. The Habs have taken the NHL by storm and knocked off two favorites along with the Winnipeg Jets en-route to their first Stanley Cup Finals appearance since 1993. A big reason why is the play of the almighty Carey Price.
Price has been phenomenal for Montreal throughout the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Overall, he’s posted a 12-5-0 record with a .934 save percentage and 2.04 goals against average. In the opening series versus Toronto, Price had a .932 save percentage and 2.24 goals against average, giving up 16 goals in seven games. During the series sweep of Winnipeg, Price posted a .942 save percentage and absurd 1.49 goals against average, allowing only six goals in four games. In their most recent series against Vegas, Price had a .933 save percentage and 2.10 goals against average, allowing 13 goals in six games. It’s safe to say that Carey Price is a big reason why Montreal is riding a giant wave of momentum into the Stanley Cup Finals.
While Montreal is marching towards their first Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 28 years, the Flyers are left wondering what went wrong. A team that missed the playoffs by 13 points, their play made it seem like a much larger gap. The Flyers allowed the most goals in the league, and subsequently the most goals per game. Their penalty kill was second-worst in the NHL as well. Their cumulative save percentage was atrocious; there’s no two ways about it.
A big part that some won’t want to hear about is the play of Carter Hart.
While he may be the goalie to stop the never-ending carousel in net for the Flyers, he certainly didn’t play the part this season. There were contributing factors like terrible team defense, but his numbers did little to instill confidence this past season. He posted a 9-11-5 record while subsequently posting a .877 save percentage and 3.77 goals against average. All career worsts, it’s safe to say Hart had a bit of a down year.
While the Canadiens battle for the most coveted prize in all of sports, the Flyers and Carter Hart regroup and set their focus towards the 2021/22 season. While many dominos still have yet to fall, including what trades or free-agent acquisitions will occur, one thing remains constant: the Flyers need Carter Hart to rebound in a big way.
Where it All Starts
Let’s be honest here. It begins and ends with Carter Hart. He will need to find it within himself to rebound and get back to the 2019/20 version of himself. His performance this past season isn’t the Carter Hart we all know and appreciate. While this past left a sour taste on our palate, there’s reason to believe the 2021/22 season will taste much better.
Goalies are a strange breed. We’ve seen fantastic goalies fall off a cliff and run their careers into the ground. We’ve seen mediocre goalies take their teams on runs that no one saw coming. Most importantly, we’ve seen some of the best goalies to ever play the game have down years but rebound in a big way. Carter Hart’s childhood idol is no different. His rookie season at age 20 saw him post a .920/2.56 stat line. That year, his record was 24-12-3. His team made it to the second round of the playoffs where Price posted a .901/2.78 stat line. Not nearly as good as his regular-season numbers, but solid for a rookie in his playoff debut.
Similarities to Hart…
The next season saw a dip in production. Price played 11 more games and posted a .905/2.83 stat line. Come playoff time, his numbers dipped even more. The Habs were swept by the Bruins in four games. Price was the goalie of record in all four contests. He posted an .878/4.11 stat line.
How did Price rebound from his poor playoff performance in 2009? He posted a .912/2.77 stat line during the 2009/10 season. Much better than his playoff performance in the prior season, but not good enough. He went 13-20-5 that year and lost his starter status come playoff time to Jaroslav Halak. Again, how did he respond to that?
He posted one of his best years in 2010/11, going 38-28-6 with a .923 save percentage and 2.35 goals against average. After his stats dipped in the two years after, he picked it up in 2013/14 before having one of the best seasons an NHL goaltender has ever had in 2014/15. During that season, he went 44-16-6 with a .933 save percentage and 1.96 goals against average. All-star selection, Hart Trophy winner, William Jennings Award winner, Lester B. Pearson Award winner (now known as the Ted Lindsay Award,) and capped things off with the Vezina Trophy as well.
All that was the long way of telling you that goalies are more than capable of bouncing back after a sub-par year. Hart knows that. He idolizes the man who exemplified just that. If anything, it should light a fire under Carter Hart knowing how well Price bounced back from a little bit of adversity early on in his career.
Carey Price as Motivation
The motivation is exactly what was mentioned above. Carey Price went from a solid rookie year, to a down year, losing his starting gig to a 24-year-old Jaroslav Halak, to having one of the best seasons a goalie could have. Carter Hart seeing that all unfold should have been enough to convince him that he can get out of his own head and right the ship.
Seeing his current Stanley Cup run should reinforce the notion that this past season could be just a blip on the radar of his career. We saw how good Hart can be. He outdueled his childhood idol in the playoffs last year and was arguably the biggest reason why the Flyers got as far as they did. It’s time to build off of that and push forward knowing what lies ahead.
It Won’t Be Easy
It isn’t going to be easy. Carter Hart has a lot of work ahead. His away numbers are staggering, and not in a good way. His home numbers are prolific. Things need to even out on that front for Hart to really regain his footing. Lest we forget, he also hasn’t taken part in a full 82-game season with a normal training camp. Not to say he gets a total pass for his lackluster performance this season, but it’s something to consider when analyzing this season’s performance.
Goalies have bad years. Humans have two eyes, two ears, and the affinity to criticize pro athletes when they’re likely a quarter of the athlete that they are tearing into. Water is also wet. The obvious aside, it’s important to realize that goalies who never have a down year are not out there. Unless your name is Dominik Hasek, you’re likely going to have a year comparable to that of Carter Hart’s this past season. It’s ok, it’s part of the growing process.
Also part of the growing process is finding the motivation to get you through the mud. Carter Hart should go back to the well for this one and pay attention to what Carey Price is doing during these playoffs. A guy who’s battled his entire career is on the cusp of winning the one award that has eluded him to this point. Hart should be paying very close attention to these playoffs and should be using it to stoke the flames.
Photo Credit: Alex McIntyre