But the most important thing to note about Steve Mason Tuesday was that he was superb in net… again.
Mason, making his first home start at the Wells Fargo Center, made 38 saves, including 16 stops in a third period owned by the opposition, to backstop the Flyers to a thrilling 3-2 victory over the New York Rangers, allowing the Flyers to hang around the outskirts of the Eastern Conference playoff race for a little while longer.
“He played great,” said Kimmo Timonen, who also netted the game-winning goal. “He looked really calm out there. Every time someone looks that calm, it makes us more confident. His playing the puck ability is great; he broke up a lot of plays like that.”
He was again deceptively quick for a big guy. His lateral movement was what impressed again, as was his glove hand as he was able to use that effectively well to thwart chances by the Rangers.
And boy did they have chances – even Rangers coach John Tortorella pointed it out after the game.
“Oh, we doubled them up in chances,” he said. “I mean, first period we had a lot of good chances. They only had two or three, they scored two goals, but I thought we kept on coming. We just couldn’t solve Mason. We developed some offense but we couldn’t solve Mason.”
Several Rangers were left shaking their head at Mason, whether it was Derek Stepan in the slot, or Dan Girardi blasting from the point, or even Ryan McDonagh pinching in from the post, Mason constantly had an answer.
“I saw it before,” said Jake Voracek, who scored an empty-net goal and was Mason’s teammate for three seasons in Columbus. “He was rock solid for us tonight. Every game he’s played he gave us a chance to win, which is huge. We finally got some goals for him and we won.”
Voracek was referring to Mason’s rookie season with the Blue Jackets when he won the Calder Trophy as the top rookie in the NHL.
“He was exactly the same as he was in the first year when he won the Rookie of the Year,” Voracek said. “And he was all over the place. He made a huge stop for us and he was a big key for us, too and winning two more points today.”
It was the first time all season that the Flyers won a game with someone other than Ilya Bryzgalov in net, becoming the last team to do so.
Mason admitted that since coming to Philadelphia that he is more comfortable. That’s surprising because the pressure put on a goaltender in Philadelphia has to be far greater than Columbus – and arguably could be the most intense in the league..
But don’t tell him that – as it’s been so far, so god for the Flyers.
“The last three years in Columbus have been a drain from a mental standpoint,” Mason said. “There have been so many negatives there so to come here and get a fresh start with a new organization and new teammates, it’s just a breath of fresh air. I’m really looking forward to it and savoring it.”
As a result, the Flyers are savoring the fact that they are still alive in a playoff race that had all but forgotten they were ever in it.
Brayden Schenn got them on the board in the first period when Brandon Manning’s shot attempt was blocked but the puck caromed right over to Schenn who beat Henrik Lundqvist by tucking a shot inside the post to make it 1-0.
Erik Gustafsson stretched the lead to 2-0 when he one-timed a cross-ice pass from Sean Couturier past Lundqvist marking a goal in consecutive games for the young defenseman who has been playing much better and bigger minutes of late for the Flyers.
Mats Zuccarello cut the lead in half for the Rangers, beating Mason with a smart shot that was through a screen but Timonen got the game-winner, leaning into a slapshot off a key faceoff win by Claude Giroux and beating Lundqvist with a shot along the ice for his fifth goal of the season.
The Rangers would get back within a goal, but that’s when Mason took over, lifting the team to victory with his excellent play which included a brief respite and visit with the trainer on the ice because he was cramping.
“It was just a major cramp,” Mason said. “As you can see, I’m just drenched. Whether that was a mixture of nerves playing at home for the first time and trying to play well, I’m not sure…
“It was an important game for myself and the team. As a hockey player, this is a game you want to be a part of. This was a must-win in terms of the playoff race with them being in the eighth playoff spot right now. That was a big win.”
Sure, being five points out with five games to play is a significant hurdle. But, it guarantees that at the very least tomorrow’s game against New Jersey and Saturday’s game in Carolina still have implications toward that longshot playoff push.
“Anything can happen,” said Schenn. “We are not going to quit, whether we are five points back or three points back. We are going to fight until the end and there are still ten points up for grabs for us. A lot can happen so we’re going to keep on fighting until the end.”
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