Hart, in his third season with the Silvertips, is tied for most league career shutouts (26) and has a sterling 92.7 career saves percentage. Now he will try to lead Everett past the second round of the WHL playoffs beginning with the defending WHL champion Seattle Thunderbirds.
EVERETT — Carter Hart, who many believe is the best goaltender ever to play in the Western Hockey League, has already accomplished so much in an Everett Silvertip jersey that the Hollywood ending certainly demands a long playoff run to serve as an exclamation point.
The 19-year-old has already won two straight Del Wilson Memorial trophies awarded to the league’s best goaltender. And he’s saved his best season for last, a lead-pipe cinch to become the first in league history to own triplicate Wilson trophies.
Hart’s record this season is 31-6-1-3. He stopped a league-best 94.7 percent of the shots he’s faced. He’s allowed only 1.60 goals a game and had a league-high seven shutouts. In his spare time, Hart led Team Canada to the gold medal at the 2018 World Junior Championship.
Game 1 — Seattle @ Everett, Friday, March 23, 7:35 p.m.
Game 2 — Seattle @ Everett, Saturday, March 24, 7:05 p.m.
Game 3 — Everett @ Seattle, Tuesday, March 27, 7:05 p.m.
Game 4 — Everett @ Seattle, Friday, March 30, 7:35 p.m.
Game 5 — Seattle @ Everett, Saturday, March 3, 7:05 p.m.*
Game 6 — Everett @ Seattle, Tuesday, April 3, 7:05 p.m.*
Game 7 — Seattle @ Everett, Wednesday, April 4, 7:05 p.m.*
* If necessary
Everett qualified for the playoffs for its 15th straight season by winning its fifth U.S.Division title with a record of 47-20-2-3. The Silvertips finished with the best record in the Western Conference and will play the defending league champion Seattle Thunderbirds in the first round beginning Friday at 7:35 at the Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett. The T-birds went 34-28-8-2 to grab the last wild-card playoff spot.
Eight of the 10 games between the teams in the regular season were decided by one goal with four going to overtime. Everett went 6-2-0-2 in the series, Seattle 4-4-2-0. Patrick Bajkov led Everett in scoring with 33 goals and 100 points with Connor Dewar leading the team with 38 goals. Nolan Volcan led Seattle with 32 goals and tied Donovan Neuls with 76 points each.
Hart will undoubtedly turn pro next year after being the first goaltender drafted (No. 48 overall) by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2016 NHL draft. And Wednesday it was announced he earned WHL Western Conference player and goaltender of the year.
Gregg Drinnan, the former sports editor at daily newspapers in Regina and Kamloops who has covered the league for more than 40 years, knows best-ever questions rarely supply definitive answers.
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“The numbers indicate that Hart is the best of all time,” Drinnan said. “I don’t care what team/systems you play behind, you still have to make the saves. His positioning and his calmness, I think, are remarkable.
“I always put Ed Staniowski (who led Regina to the Memorial Cup championship in 1974) and John Davidson (drafted fifth overall in1973 before jumping directly to the St. Louis Blues) up there. I am prepared to put Hart above them.”
Hart politely does not take part in any such speculation, content to let his career record of 116-46-10-12, his career save percentage of 92.7 and his 26 shutouts, tied for league-best with former Vancouver goaltender Tyson Sexsmith, speak for him.
He’s a one-stop-at-a-time kind of goalie with remarkable focus and poise, always in the right position to make a big save when his team needs it the most.
Shane Clifford, Hart’s goaltender coach who runs a renowned goaltending school, confirms that Hart is special.
“What he’s done is crazy, almost unbelievable,” Clifford said. “At the end of the day, he might well be the best ever in what is a very good league. He prepares like a pro and is a very special young man, on and off the ice.”
There is, however, one minor pin hole in Hart’s sparkling resume. In his three seasons in Everett, the Silvertips have never made it out of the second round of the playoffs.
The Thunderbirds ended the Silvertips’ 2017 season winning their series 4-0, on the way to their first WHL title. The T-birds did the same in the previous year on the way to a Western Conference title with Portland taking Everett out in Hart’s rookie season.
“It is some extra motivation,” Hart said of the opening-round matchup with Seattle. “They are a big, strong team, but I try not to get caught up in that kind of stuff. It’s the same game no matter who you are playing with the same size ice sheet and the same puck. So not much really changes.”
Excellent goaltending was a key to Seattle’s title run last season with rookie Carl Stankowski going 16-2-2 in the playoffs that ended in a 4-2 series victory over the Regina Pats in the championship. Stankowski has not played this season with an injury and will not be on the roster in the postseason.
Hart will almost certainly start next season in the American Hockey League with Lehigh Valley. He would like to follow the path blazed by Carey Price, who went from the Tri-City Americans to the Montreal Canadiens after only 10 games in the minors.
First though, there’s the WHL postseason.
“This is one of my favorite Everett teams,” Hart said. “The playoffs can be stressful so we just want to enjoy it. Hopefully this is my last season and we can make a long run with a great group of guys.”