Flyers

Smelling first place? Flyers win 8th straight as Metropolitan Division push gets crazier

Smelling first place? Flyers win 8th straight as Metropolitan Division push gets crazier

Updated: 9:48 p.m.

BOX SCORE

Briefly, the Flyers were no longer looking up.

With a 4-1 win Thursday night over the Hurricanes at the Wells Fargo Center, the Flyers temporarily climbed atop the Metropolitan Division.

For 18 minutes exactly.

As the Flyers (40-20-7) closed out their season-best eighth straight victory, the Capitals and Rangers were duking it out at Madison Square Garden.

New York beat Washington, 6-5, in overtime. With that result, though, the Flyers moved back into second place because of tiebreakers. Both the Flyers and Capitals have 87 points and 30 regulation wins, but Washington has more regulation/overtime victories.

The Rangers gained a 5-4 lead late in the third period but could not hold it.

As the third period wore on in Philadelphia, Flyers fans could taste the division lead.

They’ll have to wait for now.

Meanwhile, the Flyers’ run continues to grow in impressiveness. Since Jan. 8, the Flyers are 18-5-1 with an NHL-most 91 goals. Over that stretch, no team has more points than the Flyers’ 37. The Bruins also have 37.

The Hurricanes (35-25-5) played for the first time in five days and have lost four straight.

• The Flyers completed a drastic turnaround from last season.

Thanks to the win over the Hurricanes, the Flyers will finish the 2019-20 regular season with a 10-0-2 record against divisional foes Carolina, Washington and Columbus.

Last season, the Flyers went 0-10-2 against those three teams, all of which made the playoffs.

The Flyers are 16-4-4 with a plus-25 goal differential (90-65) against the Metropolitan Division.

• The Flyers ambushed Carolina in the third period after the Hurricanes crept to within one goal.

Nicolas Aube-Kubel and Sean Couturier scored 26 seconds apart to seize complete control.

• If the Flyers clinch a playoff berth and home ice in the opening round, Carter Hart’s dominance at home will be a huge reason why.

After making 28 saves Thursday, the 21-year-old improved to 19-2-2 at home. He has allowed two or fewer goals in 19 of those 23 outings.

• How about this for some depth?

Michael Raffl and Tyler Pitlick connected during the second period to give the Flyers a 2-0 lead.

Both role forwards have eight goals and 20 points on the season.

• A look at how long the Flyers will be without James van Riemsdyk (broken finger) and how they’ll move forward (see story).

• With van Riemsdyk’s injury, the acquisitions of Derek Grant and Nate Thompson look that much more important.

Grant has given the Flyers a huge lift down the middle. Everyone expected his defensive strengths to fit head coach Alain Vigneault’s system, but his offensive abilities have profiled just as well.

The 29-year-old has five points in his last three games. He’s making only $700,000 in a contract year and can play center or winger — the Flyers will certainly consider re-signing him.

• Coming into the season, it appeared the Flyers’ defensemen could make or break the team’s season.

The play from the blueliners has gotten better and better. The Flyers are consistently pushing north and that’s a credit to their defensemen.

The Flyers are also receiving quality offensive production from the position as Ivan Provorov is four goals away from matching his career of 17.

• The Flyers are off from practice Friday before hosting the Sabres Saturday (7 p.m. ET/NBCSP).

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Ice cream and a memory vs. Carey Price remind us Carter Hart is just a kid ... but ready for the moment

Ice cream and a memory vs. Carey Price remind us Carter Hart is just a kid ... but ready for the moment

When Carey Price was at his most dominant, winning the Vezina Trophy (top goalie) and Hart Memorial Trophy (MVP) in 2014-15, Carter Hart was just 16 years old. 

The precocious but innocent kid had just begun molding his game at the junior hockey level with the WHL's Silvertips in Everett, Washington.

Price was at the sport's pinnacle.

"He was my favorite goalie growing up," Hart said.

On Wednesday, the night before his 22nd birthday, Hart found himself stretching next to Price at the center-ice line in front of the scorekeepers' bench.

There was Hart, on the same NHL stage as his idol, facing him in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The NHL postseason is serious business, requiring the utmost competitiveness and focus. Hart, whose youthfulness often belies his maturity, fully understands the beast that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But the postseason makes for special moments and memories. NHL players all looked up to someone at some point. For Hart, he allowed himself to appreciate the storyline ahead.

"Definitely really cool," Hart said last Sunday about the upcoming best-of-seven first-round matchup with Price's Canadiens. "Just had the chance to actually meet him the other week and talk with him for the first time, so that was something pretty cool. For your first playoff series, playing against Carey Price will definitely be a lot of fun; I look forward to it."

Price, who turns 33 years old on Sunday, was unable to spoil the youngster's birthday. By midnight, Hart and the top-seeded Flyers had a 1-0 series lead after earning a hard-fought 2-1 victory over eighth-seeded Montreal. Hart is 3-0-0 with a 1.00 goals-against average and .966 save percentage through three games in the NHL's return-to-play 24-team tournament.

On the ice, the Flyers were able to celebrate around Hart after he turned away 27 of 28 shots, with 16 of those saves coming in the second period when the Flyers really needed him.

Off the ice, they made sure to celebrate Hart's birthday a little early, making the best of the circumstances in the Eastern Conference's Toronto bubble.

“I think some guys got him some ice cream yesterday after the game and just sang him happy birthday," Shayne Gostisbehere said Thursday with a smile. "He’s been pretty good.”

“Let him do his thing,” Scott Laughton chimed in about Hart.

“Yeah, let him do his thing," Gostisbehere echoed.

After a short and sweet exchange with Price, Hart did his thing in Game 1.

“Just said hello quickly in warmups, good luck and it was just time to go play," Hart said.

If Hart continues to play the way he has this season and to start the tournament, he could remember the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs for much more than a memorable matchup with Price.

But there's a kid in everyone. Then again, Hart is only 22 years old.

"He’s a special kid," Derek Grant said last week. "He’s so calm. He puts his mask on, you don’t know how old he is."

With his mask off, Hart hopefully enjoyed a little ice cream and soaked in the moment.

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Canadiens head coach Claude Julien hospitalized with chest pain

Canadiens head coach Claude Julien hospitalized with chest pain

Canadiens head coach Claude Julien has been hospitalized because of chest pain, the team announced Thursday.

Julien is not expected to return to the bench for the Canadiens' best-of-seven first-round playoff series against the Flyers. Assistant coach Kirk Muller will take over head coaching duties in the interim.

Julien was behind the bench leading Montreal in Game 1 Wednesday night at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. The Flyers beat the Canadiens, 2-1, while the series continues Friday with Game 2 at 3 p.m. ET.

Here is a statement from Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin, via the team's official website:

Good afternoon. I'm here to inform you of the reason Claude Julien was not here this morning at practice. Claude experienced chest pain during the night. We immediately consulted our doctors and it was agreed to transfer him to the hospital by ambulance. He's presently there and he's undergoing tests to determine the exact nature of his condition. This has nothing to do with COVID.

We don't expect him to be back during this series against the Flyers. Kirk, Dominique [Ducharme] and Luke [Richardson] will share the responsibility, however, Kirk is the associate head coach and he will assume the responsibility of head coach until Claude's return.  

We understand that Kirk does not speak French, but these are exceptional circumstances and we're asking you for your understanding. Out of respect for Claude and his family, I will not answer any further questions about his medical condition.

The veteran coach led the Bruins to a Stanley Cup championship in 2011. The 60-year-old began his NHL head coaching career in Montreal and has been with the club for parts of seven seasons.

"There’s no doubt that there’s a deep bond and a deep respect because we know the jobs that we’re doing," Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said about Julien before the series.

Vigneault, 59, also began his NHL head coaching career in Montreal. From 1981-83, Vigneault and Julien were teammates on the Central Hockey League's Salt Lake Golden Eagles.

"I didn't see him after the game," Vigneault said Thursday afternoon in a video interview following practice. "I've known Claude since I was 20, so we go way back, good friends. I'm going to reach out with him; I just found out the news, I want to say 20 minutes ago, just before jumping on the bus. I'm not aware of exactly what happened."

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