Carter Hart said he had dreams of this day since he was four years old.
The way it turned out, it was worth the wait.
The 20-year-old Hart became the youngest goaltender in Flyers’ history to win his debut game on Tuesday night when he stopped 20 of 22 shots in a 3-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings at Wells Fargo Center.
Hart was all smiles after the game, which marked new interim coach Scott Gordon’s first victory as Flyer bench boss as well.
The Flyers needed this win badly. They had struggled of late but the infusion of a new goalie and new coach seemed to get both the team bench and the Wells Fargo Center crowd energized.
“It was something special just to be out there,’’ said a smiling Hart. “I was trying not to think about it too much before the game. Prepare just like any other game.
“Now it’s kind of starting to sink in a little bit, when I saw my mom and dad on TV … they made the trip [from Edmonton]. Those are the people who have supported me my whole life.’’
Hart didn’t have to do a whole lot of work until the last eight minutes of the game, when the Red Wings pressed for the tying goal.
But Hart was up to the task.
“I didn’t sleep much last night,’’ he confessed. “I just followed my routine and tried to keep a quiet mind. The boys did a really good job tonight of shutting them down. Didn’t give them really much at all.’’
Meanwhile, Shayne Gostisbehere led the offensive effort with a goal and an assist. It was Gostisbehere’s first goal in 16 games. He entered the game with an NHL-worst minus-18.
A goal by Radko Gudas at 8:52 of the second period broke a 1-1 tie.
The play began with Travis Konecny attempting to pass to Dale Weise just inside the Detroit blue line. The puck eluded Weise but came right to Gudas in stride. He blasted a 45-foot shot past Jonathan Bernier.
Then Gostisbehere went to work, finishing off a set-up from Nolan Patrick at 15:17.
Detroit’s Jacob de la Rose scored at 2:00 of the third period to make it 3-2 Philadelphia.
Hart, however, was perfect after that.
Still, the final minute got Hart’s heart racing.
“When they pulled the goalie, my heart was racing a little bit,’’ he said. “Maybe the first save [of the game] too. Then I settled down.’’
The Flyers held on from there and got the two points, getting out of the Metro Division basement by jumping over New Jersey.
Hart’s teammates said the goalie showed poise when it was needed and that made for a solid defensive effort.
“Obviously we wanted to help him as much as we can,’’ Gudas said. “He did a great job. We needed that little spark from him. It was fun to see him get his first win.
“I think we played a full 60 minutes. It was a huge confidence boost for us. There was a lot of communication. Guys did a really good job talking to each other. We were doing the right things in our zone in the third period.’’
Giroux had praise for his teammates, starting with Hart.
“He made some saves that kind of motivated us,’’ Giroux said. “For a 20-year-old goalie, it’s pretty impressive how calm he is in there. I know it’s only one game but he was solid out there.’’
Gordon also appreciated the way the Flyers played, executing with the proper plays at the proper time. And, of course, Hart was instrumental in the whole process.
“I think it [the win] is a big relief for everybody,’’ he said. “The record over the last little stretch here has been frustrating for everybody. You always want to start off on the right foot for Carter.
“I think it was a real fair game for him to have for a first game. He wasn’t under a lot of duress until the end. It was a good start.’’
The Flyers moved on top in the first on a goal from van Riemsdyk, who tipped Giroux’s long shot past Bernier at 18:33 of the first.
Detroit countered with van Riemsdyk in the penalty box. Dennis Cholowski’s long screen shot eluded Hart at 8:52 of the second.
The coaching change and the arrival of Hart seemed to inspire the Flyers.
“Obviously, when there’s changes like that it gets everyone’s attention and we seemed to be pretty sharp tonight,’’ van Riemsdyk said.
Gostisbehere appreciated the crowd support.
“It has been a while since we’ve heard some ‘Let’s go Flyers’ chants so it’s pretty nice,’’ said Gostisbehere, who took over seventh place on the Flyers’ defense all-time goals scored list with 41. “The kid [Hart] is giving us something right now. He’s giving us some energy, a jolt, something this team desperately needed.’’
Hart became the fifth-youngest goaltender since 1996-97 to win his NHL debut and the youngest since Carey Price did so on Oct. 10, 2007 at 20 years, 55 days. Hart is 20 years, 127 days.
Detroit: At Carolina on Thursday night.
Philadelphia: Host Nashville on Thursday night.
Wayne Fish is a freelance writer.