When PA announcer Lou Nolan revealed the starting lineup with Carter Hart’s name off the top, there was an uproar from a crowd that had been building from the day Ron Hextall retired.
For those who have braved and endured Flyers hockey over the past 20 years, Tuesday night was a coronation. For Hart himself, it was simply a moment some 16 years in the making, and he soaked in every single moment, including the outburst of cheers that came with that very first NHL save.
“Yeah, that was kind of funny,” Hart said after the Flyers' 3-2 win over Detroit (see observations). “It was just like a toe save and they’re going nuts. It was something special tonight, just to be out there. Now, it’s something that’s starting to sink in a little bit when I saw my mom on TV there. It was just a dream.”
Hart’s mother and father flew in from Edmonton. So did his 78-year-old billet Parker Fowlds, who Hart lived with the past three years in Everett, Washington, and came cross-country to share in the moment as well.
Part of Hart’s acclimation to professional hockey has been living independently in Lehigh Valley and doing all of the routine things his family had done for him over the years.
“[I have] to cook, clean, pay the bills and do almost everything that I'm not used to doing,” Hart said. “But now, I’ve gotten into a routine of cooking and cleaning and doing laundry. I hate doing laundry.”
No one really cares if Hart has shirts piled up in the corner of his room. He’ll only be judged for the one thing he has mastered since he was 8 years old when he strapped on a youth-sized set of goalie gear for the first time — stopping the puck.
On Tuesday night against the Red Wings, Hart had to make just 20 saves, a workload that may have been easier than washing dirty clothes. He became the youngest goalie in Flyers history to win his NHL debut. Hart's most memorable stop coming with 3:17 remaining in the opening period. Hart stoned a wide-open Dylan Larkin from point-blank range to keep the game scoreless.
“That was a critical save,” interim head coach Scott Gordon said. “Not to get behind in the first period I thought was important and that was a huge save for him.”
“He’s got ice in his veins if you watch him out there,” James van Riemsdyk said. “He’s very poised. Just tracks the game really well and did a great job for us.”
That save and the final minute of regulation was crucial considering the Flyers simply haven’t been able to win hockey games this season when they score three or fewer goals — an inconceivable record of 1-15-2 until Tuesday’s 3-2 victory.
In other words, they haven’t had a goaltender steal them a game all season. When the Flyers aren’t at their best, which has been pretty much since the opener in Vegas, they need someone like Hart to step up and be a little bit better than the rest.
“The kid is giving us something right now,” Shayne Gostisbehere said. “He’s giving us some energy, a jolt, something this team desperately needed.”
Desperate is a mild way of putting Hart’s appearance into perspective. The organization’s urgency for a franchise netminder is probably worse than a root canal patient requiring a dose of Lidocaine.
On this night, Hart gave the Flyers that much-needed injection, and his performance helped numb the pain of a season that has felt like one excruciating toothache.
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