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Flyers 5, Avalanche 3: Hart survives late Colorado push for upset victory

Never a doubt with this team, eh?

Colorado Avalanche v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

A team just a week removed from a 10-game losing streak that has lost 12 of its last 13 tilts is rarely expected to contend with a squad as strong as the Colorado Avalanche. But when the defending Stanley Cup champions entered Wells Fargo Arena Monday night, the Philadelphia Flyers put together as strong an effort as one could hope to see from a badly struggling club.

The Flyers took down the Avs 5-3 to earn their ninth win of the season Monday night, giving them 23 points through their first 26 games of the campaign. Still, even with the win, they remain toward the bottom of the Metropolitan Division standings with only the Columbus Blue Jackets lagging behind.

While beating Colorado is never an easy task, this Avalanche team in its current form has been fairly beatable as of late. And like the Flyers, injuries have played a major role in their struggles. On top of captain Gabriel Landeskog, who has still yet to make his season debut for Colorado, the Avs were also without Artturi Lehkonen, Valeri Nichushkin and Josh Manson in Philadelphia. And to make matters even worse for the Avs, superstar center Nathan MacKinnon exited the tilt in the first period with an apparent injury.

With several of Colorado’s top players out of action (though the Avs did still have Mikko Rantanen and Cale Makar in the lineup), the Flyers made the most of their opportunity to earn a big win over a team that, on paper, is considered one of the best in hockey. Still, the Flyers have plenty of work to do in order to unearth their true identity.

“Had some really good minutes, had some struggles,” said head Flyers head coach John Tortorella. “We’ve still got some way to go to as far as to find who we are. I’m still not sure what that definition is yet.”

Flyers defenseman Travis Sanheim put together a strong performance Monday night, logging his third goal of the season with a laser from just above the high slot to score the Flyers’ first marker. Sanheim has now logged points in each of his last four games dating back to the Flyers’ November 29 victory over the New York Islanders.

“I think just my overall play with the puck (is starting to come around),” Sanheim said after the game. “Even breakouts, some of the little plays that maybe you guys don’t see down low that I’m able to make right now and the way I’m seeing the ice, I think it’s translating offensively and I’m getting rewarded for it.”

While Sanheim continues to produce on the scoresheet, goaltender Carter Hart continues to serve as the Flyers’ saving grace in net. Hart made several game-changing stops against the Avalanche to keep the Flyers in the driver’s seat, and as has been the case for much of the season, the 24-year-old played an integral role in earning his squad a victory.

One of Hart’s biggest saves came in the third period against Makar, who forced a Patrick Brown turnover in the offensive zone and raced in on Hart for a quality scoring chance. Hart turned Makar’s breakaway opportunity aside, though, preserving the Flyers’ two-goal lead.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing for Hart, however. Late in the final third after an insurance goal from Owen Tippett — which turned out to be a crucial tally — Rantanen and Alex Newhook both beat Hart to get the Avalanche within one goal of a tie game. Luckily, Travis Konecny potted an empty-net marker to reclaim the two-goal cushion. Hart, after a less-than-stellar showing against the New Jersey Devils on Saturday, finished the night with 29 saves on 32 Colorado shots.

Konecny, meanwhile, has been strong since returning to the lineup last week after missing six games with an upper-body injury to end November. He’s found the back of the net in each of his three games since returning, and he showed much more than just a scoring touch Monday night.

Konecny is seemingly fully recovered from his ailment, and he’ll remain a key cog as the Flyers look to claw their way back into contention. Before suffering his injury, Konecny was leading the Flyers in both goals and points. Kevin Hayes now serves as the Flyers’ leader in the points category with 27 in 26 games.

“I think (Konecny) has just got that confidence, that swagger, that he feels like he’s gonna score every night,” said Sanheim. “He’s been our best player, and I think you see that he’s making plays and obviously a big piece to our hockey club, and we’re happy to have him back.”

The Flyers will wrap up their homestand Wednesday against the Washington Capitals before embarking on a four-game road trip, starting with a clash in Sin City against the Vegas Golden Knights.