2020 NHL playoffs: What would be best 1st-round matchup for Carter Hart in 24-team tournament?


From a competition standpoint, one of the biggest (and most obvious) challenges for NHL players in the 24-team tournament will be trying to get up to speed as quickly as possible following such an unprecedented layoff.

Finding ice to skate during the self-isolation period of the NHL's suspended season was not easy. For example, Carter Hart couldn't recall ever going this long without taking the ice.

The 21-year-old goalie was back at Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, New Jersey, for a voluntary workout Monday during Phase 2 of the league's return-to-play plan. Hart was not able to skate much at all once the NHL stoppage started March 12 because of the coronavirus outbreak.

“It’s probably been the longest I’ve been off the ice ever in my whole life, being three months I think without skating, so that’s a pretty long time," Hart said to Flyers senior director of public relations and communications Zack Hill. "The first time you get out there and you just get on the ice again, just skate around, it’s a pretty good feeling.

“It felt great to get back out there, nice to see some of the boys are here. And just to get back on the ice, feel the ice again. I didn’t have much ice back home, so it’s nice to get out here, get into a rhythm and see some of the guys.”

Hart, who went 24-13-3 with a 2.42 goals-against average and .914 save percentage in his first full NHL season (albeit shortened), is gearing up for his first taste of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It will be considerably different from the typical makeup of playoff hockey. The Flyers, along with the others in the 24-team field, have gone 100-plus days and counting since they last played a game, while the Eastern and Western Conferences will each play in a hub city with no fans.

Within the bracket, the Flyers hold a promising position as the Eastern Conference's fourth seed and with an opportunity to climb during the round robin. Thanks to a bye, a potential of any seed from Nos. 1-4 and the reseeding after the qualifying series, the Flyers have a chance at a slew of first-round matchups.

“I know we have the right group here that’ll be ready to go whenever that is," Hart said. “When we do get the nod to go and play wherever that may be, we’ll be ready.”

What would be the ideal matchup for Hart? Let's go with the 11th-seeded Rangers, who face the sixth-seeded Hurricanes in the best-of-five qualifying round (see all matchups).

Hart is 3-1-0 with a 2.25 goals-against average, .921 save percentage (105 saves on 114 shots) and only five even strength markers allowed in four career games against New York. The Flyers allowed the NHL's fewest shots per game (28.7) during the regular season and Hart had to make 30 or more saves only seven times. When he allowed three goals or fewer, the Flyers went 23-7-3.

The Rangers were tied for 19th in the NHL with 31.1 shots per game (only one Eastern Conference team in the field had fewer — the Islanders at 29.6). The Rangers also surrendered the league's second-most shots per game with 34 and had only 12 wins when they outshot their opponent (the Flyers had 22).

When the Flyers are limiting shots by dictating possession, beating Hart becomes a tall order for the opposition because the young netminder is so steady and seldom yields the soft goal.

During the regular season, the Flyers went 3-0-0 against the Rangers, outscoring them 15-6. They held Hart Memorial Trophy candidate Artemi Panarin in check (no goals, three assists, minus-4). It was a good matchup for the Flyers — and it could be the best for Hart in the first round.

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