On paper, it looked like the most difficult game of the Flyers’ three stops in western Canada.
And, so, yes, after an impressive 5-3 win Wednesday over previously undefeated Edmonton, the Flyerswill take some serious momentum into Thursday’s game in Vancouver.
The Flyers controlled the third period impressively against the Oilers. They kept reigning MVP Connor McDavid in check, kept the puck in the Oilers’ zone most of the time, got another big goal from Cam Atkinson, and survived a late, bogus penalty on Travis Konecny.
Goalie Carter Hart bailed them out during that penalty kill, and the Flyers escaped, outlasting a team that had been 5-0, and was scoring almost at will, especially on the power play.
“I thought we played our best period in the third, when the game was on the line,” coach Alain Vigneault said. “We found a way to get two points in a very tough environment.”
In his Edmonton homecoming, Hart made 34 stops and thoroughly outplayed his shaky counterpart, Mikko Koskinen. For Hart, who lives in a nearby suburb, it was just his second NHL appearance in Edmonton, and it erased the memories of his first one two years ago — in which he allowed four goals on 14 shots and was pulled in the second period.
Hot at the right time
This time, Hart stood tall against an Edmonton attack that was led by the incomparable McDavid, who had a goal, an assist, and eight shots in the loss. Overall, Hart stopped the last 22 shots.
“There’s no doubt he made some really big saves in that second and third period,” Vigneault said after the Flyers improved to 3-1-1. “And the guys in front of him played really hard. We came out to play; we came out hard.”
“That’s a tough team, they’re explosive,” winger James van Riemsdyk said. “You can’t really take a shift off against them because they can make plays out of nothing. It was a strong effort by us.”
The Flyers were undisciplined in the first period as they gave Edmonton three power plays. It looked like a replay from their previous game, a 4-2 loss to Florida in which the Panthers had seven power-play opportunities.
But the Flyers showed much more discipline over the last two periods, giving Edmonton only one more power play — and that was on a phantom interference call on Konecny against McDavid.
Edmonton entered the game converting a ridiculous 47.1% of its power plays, the best mark in the league. The Oilers were a more-human 1-for-4 Wednesday.
“The best way to defend them is not to take penalties,” Vigneault said.
When the Oilers did have an extra attacker, “the guys did an amazing job of blocking shots, having good sticks, and limiting their chances,” defensemen Keith Yandle said. “Obviously it starts with Hartsy. The one [power-play] goal they scored was a fluky thing ... but we stayed positive.”
The Flyers played their second straight game without injured top-pairing defenseman Ryan Ellis. In his absence, the other defensemen stepped up, especially Justin Braun (two assists, plus-4), Rasmus Ristolainen (six hits, four blocked shots), Travis Sanheim (three blocks), and Ivan Provorov, who played 25 minutes, 16 seconds, blocked three shots, and was plus-3.
Sacrifice their bodies
Ristolainen took a puck to the face late in the second period and and went to the locker room for repairs. He returned early in the third and helped the Flyers blank Edmonton in that stanza and close out the victory.
One had to admire the way the Flyers threw their bodies in front of shots, showing how much this game meant to them. They blocked 26 shots — 19 more than the home team.
They sacrificed their bodies and got two goals from Atkinson, who has six tallies, the most ever scored by a player in his first five games with the franchise.
Most importantly, they got another strong effort from Hart.
“He made the saves to keep us in the game,” said captain Claude Giroux, whose wraparound goal gave him four goals in the first five games for just the second time in his career. “He looks pretty sharp right now, and that’s good for us.”
For the Flyers, it was a nice rebound from the tough loss to Florida.
“We had a tight game going into the third, and we didn’t get the job done. We didn’t play the right way,” said Giroux of the defeat to the still-unbeaten Panthers. “Tonight was a different story. We had all four lines going and everybody was chipping in.”
Now they will try to make goaltender Martin Jones’ upcoming homecoming in Vancouver just as satisfying.