TORONTO - Carter Hart and the Philadelphia Flyers sure didn't look stale following a 4 1/2-month pause to the NHL season.
Hart stopped 34 shots, and the Flyers got a balanced and opportunistic attack in opening the expanded playoffs seeding round with a 4-1 win over the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Boston Bruins on Sunday.
Michael Raffl had a goal and assist, while Nate Thompson, Philippe Myers and Scott Laughton also scored for the Flyers. Hart, 11 days shy of his 22nd birthday, became the youngest goalie in Flyers history to win a playoff game.
“Once you get out there and start playing, the game really slows down,” said Hart, who picked up from where he left off after closing the season going 9-2 and allowing just 21 goals.
“He doesn't look 21 to me,” Thompson said of Hart. “He’s pretty poised and off the ice he carries himself well beyond his years. A true pro. He’s our backbone back there.”
The Bruins, by comparison, looked old and sluggish in their playoff debut, and nothing like the team which led the NHL with 44 wins, 100 points, and allowed a league-low 167 goals.
“I'm thinking we need to make a better freaking play with the puck,” coach Bruce Cassidy said, bluntly, complaining about the number of turnovers and a costly line change. “We need to make better plays with the puck, be stronger on it, take care of it, more urgency. You can use any adjective you want. That to me was the difference in the game.”
If there were a bright side, the Bruins — like the Flyers — are among the top four Eastern Conference teams competing in a round-robin seeding tournament and already assured of advancing to the first round.
That doesn't mean the Bruins are taking this performance for granted, especially a team that has a Stay Hungry” tagline, in reference to losing the Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final to St. Louis last year.
“Right now, we have to change some things,” defenseman Torey Krug said. “We’ve got to start building our game the right way. If we don’t, we’re going to be showing up to Game 1 of our first series not feeling comfortable.”
Chris Wagner scored for the Bruins, who came out flat and were without starting goalie Tuukka Rask, who was deemed unfit to play.
Jaroslav Halak stopped 25 shots starting in place of the Vezina Trophy finalist, who broke a finger on his left hand before the start of training camp.
Rask was healthy enough to start in Boston’s 4-1 exhibition game loss to Columbus on Wednesday. He allowed three goals on 23 shots over 30 minutes, before giving way to Halak. Cassidy said Rask was feeling better, and hoped he could return for Boston's game against Tampa Bay on Wednesday.
Hart surpassed Pete Peeters, who was nearly 23 in winning Game 1 of Philadelphia's preliminary series over Edmonton in 1980.
Raffl opened the scoring 5:33 into the second period when he was set up alone driving to the net by Travis Sandheim, who kept the puck in at the blueline. Thompson scored 3:58 later with a snap shot from the left circle on a play that began with teammate Ivan Provorov pouncing on a Bruins’ turnover in the neutral zone.
And even when the Bruins scored on Wagner’s wrap-around goal with 1:09 left in the second period, they allowed the Flyers to regain the two-goal edge on Myers’ goal 8 seconds later.
Boston’s Anders Bjork appeared to misplay the puck in the neutral zone, allowing Myers to drive up the left wing and snap a 40-footer inside the far post.
Laughton then sealed the win 4:07 into the third period, when he drove in alone after teammate Kevin Hayes forced Brandon Carlo to turn over the puck at the right point of the Flyers’ zone.
NOTES: The Bruins have four players with 100-plus career playoff appearances: Zdeno Chara (182), Patrice Bergeron (137), David Krejci (132) and Brad Marchand (108). ... The Flyers have one player with 100 or more career playoff appearances, D Matt Niskanen (125), none with Philadelphia, and 70 during his tenure with the Washington Capitals. ... Bruins players stood arm in arm at their blue line for the anthems, while coach Bruce Cassidy linked arms with his staff on the bench.
Flyers: Face third-seeded Washington Capitals on Thursday.
Bruins: Face second-seeded Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday.