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As a kid growing up in Sherwood Park, Alta., Carter Hart’s favourite goalie was Carey Price.
Now, the 21-year-old Hart will get to square off against his childhood idol when the Philadelphia Flyers play the Canadiens in the first round of the NHL playoffs, with Game 1 slated for Wednesday in Toronto (8 p.m., CBC, SN, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio).
Hart was only 6 when the Canadiens selected Price in the first round (fifth overall) at the 2005 NHL Draft. The Flyers selected Hart in the second round (48th overall) of the 2016 NHL Draft.
Hart’s first game against Price in the NHL was a forgettable one last season as he allowed three goals in the first 10 minutes before getting pulled in a 5-1 loss to the Canadiens. The 21-year-old now has a career 1-2-0 record against the 32-year-old Price. This season, Hart had a 24-13-3 record with a 2.42 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage, while Price was 27-25-6 with a 2.79 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage.
“Any time you have a chance to play against somebody that you’ve looked up to, it’s always exciting,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said during a video conference Monday. “Playoffs, even more better. But it’s two good goaltenders and it’s going to be a treat to watch.”
Added Flyers teammate Kevin Hayes: “Hartsy’s an elite goalie. He’s a young kid … he’s shown everyone that he belongs in the conversation with some of these top goalies. I know when I entered the league I played against guys that I looked up to when I was in college and high school and I’m sure it’s the same for Hartsy. But when the puck drops he has to focus on his game and I’m sure that’s what we’ll get from him.”
Price was outstanding during the Canadiens four-game victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the best-of-five qualifying round, posting a 3-1-0 record with a 1.67 goals-against average and a .947 save percentage.
“I really believe everything’s been said about Price,” Flyers coach Alain Vigneault said during a video conference Monday when asked about the Canadiens goaltender. “Obviously, a premiere goaltender in the league, gives the Canadiens a chance every game. So I’m not sure there’s much more I can add to where he is, how well he plays and what he does for that team.”
The New York Rangers won the NHL Draft Lottery Monday night and can now select Alexis Lafrenière with the No. 1 overall pick.
Meanwhile, Canadiens fans can wonder what might have been if they had lost to the Penguins in the qualifying round and had a shot at the 18-year-old left-winger, who posted 35-77-112 totals in 52 games this season with the QMJHL’s Rimouski Océanic.
When asked if he would be watching the NHL Draft Lottery Monday night, the Canadiens’ Dale Weise said: “I don’t plan on watching. I could probably care less of what happens. We’re more focused on the playoff series. We’re getting ready for Philly. We’re way more focused on that. I don’t think anyone from our team’s concerned about the draft lottery.”
Something to prove
Weise is looking forward to playing against the Flyers, the team that traded him to the Canadiens last season, along with defenceman Christian Folin, in exchange for Byron Froese and David Schlemko.
“That’s a team that I was traded away from,” Weise said. “Obviously, they didn’t feel I was a fit in their team, so that’s extra motivation for me, for sure. You always want to show a team that they made a mistake and I think that’s everybody’s goal when you get traded away. So definitely extra motivation for me, for sure.”
Canadiens coach Claude Julien obviously likes Weise’s experience on the fourth line — playing him ahead of first-round pick Ryan Poehling — and the veteran has played in 44 postseason games during his 10-year career.
When asked if he has been offering some playoff advice to his younger teammates, Weise said: “I think this is just so different from a real playoff season. It’s kind of like a restart to the season. With no fans, you’re not playing in an opposing team’s building, you don’t really have that extra aspect. So, from a personal standpoint, I’m not pulling guys aside and saying stuff. But I think we have a lot of good leaders in our room. We have some guys that have been there and have some playoff experience and I think they’re stepping up and saying things at the times that they need to. But I think this is how you gain experience, by being in it. So I think our young guys did a tremendous job in the first round and if we’re going to continue to do big things we’re going to need them to carry the load for us.”
Weise split this season between the Canadiens and the AHL’s Laval Rocket and the 32-year-old can become an unrestricted free agent after the playoffs end.
“It was a tough year,” Weise admitted. “A lot of ups and downs from the start. But here we are, we’re in the middle of August playing in playoffs. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be and I’m excited for the opportunity that we’re in.”
The Canadiens and Flyers both struggled big-time on the power play during the first round of the postseason.
The Canadiens went 0-for-12 on the power play in their four games against the Penguins, while the Flyers went 0-for-11 while winning all three of their round-robin games against the Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning.
Julien gave his players the day off from practice Monday, while the Flyers did skate and worked on their power play.
“Definitely, our execution has been off.,” Vigneault said. “It’s an area that I’ve mentioned a few times that we’ve been working on. Fortunately, the schedule here is giving us a couple of more days. We’re only starting Wednesday, so we’ll be able to work on the power play and hopefully we can get it to where it needs to be. It’s definitely a weapon during the series. It’s definitely something that we get a lot of confidence in that we’ve been doing well, especially in the 20 games prior to the stoppage of play (because of COVID-19) and I expect us to be able to get back to that form.”
During the regular season, the Flyers ranked 14th in the NHL on the power play with a 20.8 per cent success rate, while the Canadiens ranked 22nd at 17.7 per cent.
Vigneault and his assistant coach Michel Therrien have both been head coach of the Canadiens in the past and have formed a good team together during their first season behind the Flyers bench.
“They have a lot of experience,” Giroux said. “They communicate well. They just know the game while the game’s happening. They pick up stuff that’s pretty impressive … they don’t need to see video or anything. They just see it right away and they’re able to help us right away. So just the knowledge of the game.”
Vigneault and Julien were teammates for two seasons with the CHL’s Salt Lake Golden Eagles during the early 1980s, both of them defencemen.
“There’s no doubt that there’s a deep bond and a deep respect because we know the jobs that we’re doing,” Vigneault said. “But at the end of the day, at this time there’s no friends. There’s no friends in coaching and there’s no friends … there shouldn’t be any friends as far as players. There’s a lot of respect, obviously, on both sides. But it’s time to play and it’s time to bring it and that’s what both the Flyers and Montreal are going to try and do.”
Tatar not worried
Tomas Tatar led the Canadiens in scoring during the regular season with 22-39-61 totals, but he went pointless in the four qualifying-round games against the Penguins.
“Our job was to play against (Sidney Crosby’s) line,” Tatar said about his line, which includes Phillip Danault and Brendan Gallagher. “I think we did a solid job. The young guys were playing great, Suzy (Nick Suzuki), KK (Jesperi Kotkaniemi), they stepped up, really. They scored some important goals, for sure. I think overall the whole team did very well and that’s why we advanced. We’re playing all together, we’re all in one boat, I think (if) everybody will sacrifice like we did we have a chance to go in next round, too.
“I think I had my chances, I was just a little unfortunate not to put the puck in,” Tatar added. “Obviously, it looks a little different on the sheet. But, to be honest, I’m not really concerned about that. We’re here as one team and we did go through and I think that’s the part that we should focus on. Obviously, it looks better when these stats are higher. But, like I said, we had a role that series and I think we did a good job and we advanced.”
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