- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 14, 2019

PHILADELPHIA — If Gritty the mascot gave the Philadelphia Flyers a new identity off the ice this season, Carter Hart is becoming their new identity on it.

The franchise has long sought stability between the pipes, and Hart — who won eight straight starts during the winter to boost Philadelphia into the playoff race — is one promising goalie of the future.

But Hart is still a 20-year-old rookie, susceptible to poor outings or surprises from unlikely adversaries. On Thursday night, Brett Connolly was the Washington Capital who had Hart’s number.

Connolly gave the Capitals two goals and an assist on their way to a 5-2 win in Philadelphia that kept them in first place in the Metropolitan Division for the night.

Lars Eller, Tom Wilson and Evgeny Kuznetsov also scored, and Braden Holtby stopped 22 shots.

Washington (42-22-7) peppered Hart with 32 shots on goal, of which Hart saved 27. To the rookie’s credit, he saved two power-play shots by Alex Ovechkin.

James van Riemsdyk and Scott Laughton scored for the Flyers.

The Capitals’ third line of Connolly, Eller and Carl Hagelin was stellar all night, creating three goals without giving up one. But on the whole, Washington gave a good performance to bounce back from losing 5-3 to the Pittsburgh Penguins Tuesday.

Entering Thursday, the Metro was the only division with five teams at 80 or more points in the standings, with the Flyers (34-28-8, 76 points) stuck behind the logjam. The Capitals are up to 91 points, staying ahead of Pittsburgh and the New York Islanders.

The Capitals have been snakebitten in recent weeks by constantly allowing goals early in games. But on this night, they were the team to get on the board in the first few minutes. Washington prevented the Flyers from clearing it out of their zone, and John Carlson and Michal Kempny facilitated a loose puck to Connolly for an easy back-door goal 2:53 into the proceedings.

Connolly and the third line struck again halfway through the first, and again, it was a matter of Philadelphia struggling to force the Capitals back into the neutral zone. Connolly snagged a puck heading to the blue line and sent a backhand pass to Eller. A few passes later, Eller took an up-close shot, had it saved and scored on the rebound.

The Flyers’ van Riemsdyk scored just one minute into the second with a perfectly placed snap shot, but Washington took over after that. Connolly grabbed a takeaway and found himself wide open in the left circle to nail his second goal of the night where Hart couldn’t reach it in time.

Connolly, a 26-year-old approaching unrestricted free agency after this season, is up to 19 goals and 20 assists, both career highs.

Wilson buried a slapper one minute later for his 20th goal of the year. Hart had pivoted left to face Kuznetsov as he controlled the puck, but Kuznetsov served it up to Wilson on a platter.

Philadelphia scored again to cut it to 4-2, where the score would remain after two periods.

The Capitals tried giving their lead away during the third, with minor penalties on Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom and Nick Jensen that put Philadelphia on the man advantage thrice in less than six minutes.

But Holtby and the Washington penalty kill — which for a change included Chandler Stephenson, starting on the fourth line instead of Nic Dowd — held firm and killed each one.

Not long after Hart was pulled to give the Flyers a 6-on-5, Kuznetsov scored on the empty net to seal it.

The Capitals and Flyers will meet once more this season, March 24 in the District.

Early in the game, even before Connolly’s first goal, Wilson took a shoulder check from Sean Couturier that appeared to hurt him in the midsection. He needed some time to skate to the bench but never ended up leaving the game.

Washington continues its four-game road trip Saturday at the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning, then wrap it up Tuesday at the New Jersey Devils.

• Adam Zielonka can be reached at azielonka@washingtontimes.com.

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