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Flyers 2, Oilers 1: Carter Hart denies Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl for shootout win

All eyes are on Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl whenever the Edmonton Oilers are in action. They’re two of the best hockey players in the world, and some even argue that McDavid could be the best hockey player ever. So when Edmonton’s dynamic duo visited the Philadelphia Flyers Thursday night, it’s fair to imagine the main priority for the Orange & Black was shutting down No. 97 and No. 29.

But instead of McDavid or Draisaitl having their way with the inconsistent Flyers defense, it was Carter Hart who reigned supreme in the tilt. The 24-year-old netminder was superb for the Flyers, guiding his squad to a 2-1 victory in the shootout.

After the scoreless overtime period, it was expected Hart would encounter McDavid and Draisaitl in the shootout — and that’s exactly what he got. Denying just one of them would have been impressive, but Hart turned aside McDavid and Draisaitl in the skills competition to earn the Flyers a valuable pair of points.

Hart finished the night with 34 saves on 35 Oilers shots. This marks Hart’s 16th win of the season.

“The shootout — look who he’s facing in the shootout. I thought we played very well in front of him, but he made some key saves at key times,” said head coach John Tortorella.

“The thing I liked is we checked — and I hope we learn from it — is we checked and we kept our patience. I thought our placement of the puck, just chipping and getting underneath the hash instead of making plays into the middle of the ice all the time, which is just so dangerous against that team. I thought we had some really good patience with our game. But also we were on our toes. That’s tough to do. It’s a game that we can lean on when we need to play that style. I think that’s a very important way to play this time of year.”

While Hart got the last laugh, the Flyers couldn’t totally contain McDavid, though they came close to it. They held the two-time Hart Memorial Trophy winner to just one point — an assist — on the night, which is about as good as it gets when it comes to shutting down the NHL’s top player.

Kevin Hayes ended up being the only Flyer to score a goal in regulation. After Hayes disrupted an Oilers rush, Travis Sanheim picked up the loose puck, darted through the neutral zone and dropped the puck back to Hayes, who beat Edmonton goalie Stuart Skinner with a little help from a Tyson Barrie redirection to open the scoring. With a primary assist on the play, Sanheim picked up his first point in a month. His last point came on January 9.

“I’ve been struggling a little bit as of late and I think (joining the rush) is a big part of my game,” said Sanheim. “Talking with the coaching staff, it’s something that I needed to bring back when I’m playing my best and moving my feet. A big part of that is joining the rush. Thought I did a much better job of that tonight and I just need to continue to have that in my game and keep trying to provide as much as I can.”

The Oilers appeared to take the 2-1 lead at the 12:36 mark of the third period when Zach Hyman buried a loose puck in Hart’s crease. But upon further review, the goal was called back due to goaltender interference. Prior to Hyman getting the puck past the goal line, Warren Foegele made contact with Hart while crashing the net, which kept him from being able to play his position.

Of course, the successful challenge proved to be integral in the Flyers’ upset victory over a team competing for the top spot in the Pacific Division, but several key defensive plays made all the difference in the game’s final minutes.

Late in the third period, Oilers winger Evander Kane nearly scored his second goal of the night off a wraparound attempt. The puck bounced off of Ivan Provorov’s skate and slowly inched toward the open goal, but Provorov managed to recover and fire the puck out of the dangerous area.

In overtime, on the same day Tortorella all but admitted he was a defensive liability, Tony DeAngelo made a crucial play in the defensive zone — against McDavid — to keep the game tied. McDavid raced in one-on-one against DeAngelo, putting his second-to-none stickwork and skating ability on full display. But DeAngelo stayed with him and forced the puck into the corner to deny McDavid a potential scoring chance.

This was a big win for the Flyers. Not just because they took down one of the top dogs of the Western Conference, but because the players who needed big performances — DeAngelo and Sanheim, in particular — showed up.

When Tortorella talks about the “belief” his players are showing on the ice and in the locker room, performances like this are what back up his optimism.

The Flyers have two games remaining on their homestand, and they come on back-to-back days. They’ll take on the Nashville Predators Saturday afternoon, then turn around and face off against Dave Hakstol and the Seattle Kraken Sunday at 1 p.m., leaving fans with plenty of time to change into their Eagles attire ahead of Super Bowl LVII.

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