On this date in 2020, the Philadelphia Flyers eliminated the Montreal Canadiens in six games during the bubble playoffs.
Carter Hart, who turned 22 during the playoff round, was the main storyline all series long as he propped up a lackluster Flyers team who struggled to score against the 12th seeded Canadiens. The young goalie outdueled his childhood idol Carey Price while making Flyers and NHL history along the way.
In Game 1, Hart made 27 saves as Philadelphia edged Montreal 2-1. The Flyers hung on to a one goal lead they got in the second period when Joel Farabee became the first PHI player since Simon Gagne (2000) to score a game winning playoff goal at age 20 or younger. Carter Hart became the youngest goalie in Flyers history to win a playoff game.
The Montreal Canadians rallied in Game 2 after head coach Claude Julien left the bubble due to a medical emergency, a stent had to be placed in his coronary artery. Carter Hart allowed four goals on 26 shots and was relieved by Brian Elliott in the 2nd period. The Flyers would get blown out 5-0. Carey Price made 30 saves along the way to his 7th postseason shutout.
Philadelphia would receive some motivation of their own in Game 3 as Oskar Lindblom entered the bubble and was one of the only fans in attendance. Linblom had rung the bell to signal the end of his radiation treatments for cancer on July 2nd. A Jakub Voracek goal 5:21 into the first period was all Carter Hart needed. The netminder made 23 saves and became the youngest goaltender (22 years, 3 days) in Flyers history to record a playoff shutout.
Hart did it all over again in Game 4 with 29 saves in a 2-0 shutout win. He became the youngest goalie in franchise history with back to back playoff shutouts and the third to ever do it (Bernie Parent, Michael Leighton). In terms of NHL history, Carter Hart became the second youngest goalie EVER to register back to back playoff shutouts. Harry Lumley, the youngest, accomplished the feat a month before World War II ended.
With Philadelphia in possession of a 3-1 lead, play got chippy in Game 5. The Flyers suffered a 5-3 loss as Carter Hart’s shutout streak was snapped at 122:53. With five minutes remaining in the third period, defenseman Matt Niskanen caught Brendan Gallagher in the face with a cross-check.
There was no penalty on the play and the 5’9″ forward was bent over and turned at the last second before contact was made. The Montreal Canadiens had the National Hockey League look into the play and began a promoted social media campaign against Niskanen.
Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault defended Matt Niskanen as Canadiens interim coach Kirk Muller and general manager Marc Bergevin criticized him and sent footage of the play to the league.
Alain Vigneault: “In my estimation, Gallagher got up and seemed fine. He was talking to the referees. The whole time that he was on the bench, he was talking to our players for the rest of the game. Gallagher is a very competitive player, but I don’t think it’s Nisky’s fault. [Gallagher] might not be as tall as the other guys, but he competes as big if not bigger than anybody else.“
In addition to the Matt Niskanen incident, the Flyers were upset after Montreal forward Nick Suzuki patted Carter Hart on the head after scoring the game winning goal in Game 5.
Suzuki apologized after the game and said it wasn’t intentional: “I didn’t have any intentions. I wasn’t really thinking. I was just excited for the goal. It was just a reaction.”
Flyers forward Kevin Hayes called the move immature and wasn’t buying it: “It was just uncalled for. I think they were teammates at World Juniors once and it was a spur of the moment type thing. He can say what he wants. Whatever he thinks.”
Once the chips fell after the theatrics of Game 5, it was confirmed that Brendan Gallagher suffered a broken jaw and Matt Niskanen was suspended for Game 6. Despite the diagnosis, Alain Vigneault doubled down on Gallagher running his mouth following the injury.
“You don’t like to see any players get injured, there’s no doubt. But at the end of the day, I can only state the facts. And the fact was that Gallagher got up and his mouth didn’t shut up for at least five minutes — to the referees, the linesmen and to our bench for nearly five minutes. So he didn’t look like he was hurt other than obviously it looked like he had a cut. I believe that if the Montreal medical personnel thought that it was something real serious, they would have probably taken him off and brought him inside. I can only state the facts and state what I was watching, and what I was watching was a guy that just kept on talking, so he didn’t seem like he was hurt.“
All the pressure was on Philadelphia for Game 6. They were the #1 seed after sweeping through the round robin, but looked sluggish and lacked offense all series long. Carter Hart saved the Flyers bacon again with 31 saves in a 3-2 victory. Kevin Hayes had a goal and an assist and Philly held on to a 3-1 lead that happened early in the 2nd period. Michael Raffl had the game winning goal after driving to the net and getting in front of a Travis Sanheim shot. The Flyers had three goals on only 17 shots.
Derek Grant got one back on Nick Suzuki at the conclusion of the game. The trade deadline acquisition gave him a head pat after the buzzer sounded.
Carter Hart had defeated his hero and one of the best goalies in the NHL: “Obviously I look up to him, and for him to come over and congratulate you in the handshake line and said ‘[Heck] of a series’ and he’ll be watching, that’s pretty special and definitely something I won’t forget.“
The Flyers’ lack of goal scoring would come back to haunt them in the following series against the New York Islanders. More than half of Philadelphia’s goals (6/11) in the series were deflections of some sort.
Carey Price: “Those are the breaks that you get in a winning, championship season. You see it every year. Unfortunately it didn’t go our way. Those are the things you can’t control.“
Kevin Hayes: “It’s tough to win four games in this series. That was our ultimate goal and we did. I don’t think we care how we do it.“