Hart stopper: Flyers count on G Hart to lead them to Cup

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Carter Hart spent his offseason living more like a young adult forced to move back home because of the pandemic rather than a franchise-shifting goalie who could have lived a luxe life anywhere he pleased.

The 22-year-old Hart lived with his parents in Alberta, Canada and he, like many who wanted to ease the stress of prepping three meals a day, subscribed to a meal delivery service.

“Both my parents are working most of the days, so I make my breakfast in the morning, then go and work out and then have a skate after, so I need to have lunch in between,” Hart said. “Me and my mom would make dinner most nights.”

Hart selected healthy options — mom and dad helped keep him on track — and says he feels “leaner” and perhaps in the best shape of his career as he starts his third season with the Philadelphia Flyers.

He can leave the cutlery with his folks. Hart is back in Philly with his plate full trying to win the Flyers their first Stanley Cup since consecutive championships in 1974 and 1975.

Promoted in 2018, Hart has shown promise that will be the goalie to fill the positional black hole that for decades has plagued the franchise. He was the first star of the game in his NHL debut and kept rolling from there — including consecutive shutouts last season against Montreal in his first playoff series. He became the youngest goalie in Flyers history with a shutout in Game 3 at 22 years, 3 days and his second one made it the fifth time in NHL history a goalie had back-to-back postseason shutouts before age 23.

“I don’t want to just be another NHL player,” Hart said. “I want to be the best and I want to be the best NHL goaltender.”

The Flyers can only hope Hart ascends to that spot as best in the league as they enter this shortened season with loftier expectations after a surprising finish as the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Alain Vigneault, the martini-drinking, French-speaking, championship-making coach returns for a second season with the pieces in place for a deeper postseason push. The Flyers went 41-21-7 and earned the No. 1 seed in the restart after round-robin play but fell in the second round to the New York Islanders.

LINDBLOM’S RETURN

There may not have been a better story in the NHL last season than Oskar Lindblom’s return in the postseason from a rare form of bone cancer. The Swede was off to a career season when he diagnosed in December 2019 with Ewing’s sarcoma, a tumor that grows in the bones or in the tissue around bones. He completed radiation treatments July 2 and weeks later signed a $9 million, three-year contract extension. Lindblom had 11 goals and 18 points in 30 games last season. Finished with chemotherapy, Lindblom hopes his hockey career can pick up where it left off.

“I feel more powerful. I feel like I got more energy in my body, too,” he said.

AGE-OLD QUESTION

Flyers captain Claude Giroux bristled at the suggestion age had started to catch up to him as his production waned. Giroux, who played on the 2010 Stanley Cup Final team, is a Flyers lifer and turns 33 on Jan. 13 — opening night. He scored only one goal in 16 playoff games and his point production has declined since a career-best 102 points in 2017-18.

“I’m not worried about my age right now,” Giroux said. “I think as you get older, you learn what works for you and what doesn’t work for you. You try to adjust and put yourself in a position to succeed.”

BOOM OR BUST

Kevin Hayes, Travis Konecny, Ivan Provorov all had fantastic seasons and Sean Couturier won the Selke Trophy for best defensive forward. But if Giroux and Jakub Voracek continue to decline and anything happens to Hart, the Flyers are in trouble.

NEW LOOK

The Flyers pretty much kept their roster in tact, adding only free agents Erik Gustafsson and Derrick Pouliot.

SCHEDULE WATCH

The Flyers open their season at the untraditional time of 5:30 p.m. EST on Jan. 13 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The schedule realignment that adds Boston to a revamped East Division that includes the Capitals, Penguins, Rangers and Islanders will put winning streaks at a premium.

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