Saturday, March 22, 2014

Blues run into Orange and Black storm

Philadelphia, PA -- Steve Mason stopped 32 shots and the Philadelphia Flyers outdueled the Western Conference's best team, taking a 4-1 decision over the St. Louis Blues in a contentious inter-conference battle on Saturday afternoon.

"I think we've proven that we're a good hockey club. We just beat the number one team in the NHL," said Mason. "That's something to be proud of but everyone in this dressing room realizes that this is going to be a long grind to finish out this year. Beating good hockey teams along the way is definitely a good sign."

Mason's positive result was his 30th win of the season. With three weeks left in the regular season, he'll almost certainly eclipse his career best of 33 wins, set in his rookie season and Calder Trophy winning campaign of 2008-09.

Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, Scott Hartnell and Jakub Voracek each posted a goal and one assist for the Flyers, who have won five in a row and eight of their last 10 to solidify their second-place standing in the Metropolitan Division.

Claude Giroux added a pair of helpers as Philly went 3-for-3 this week against top-level Central Division teams.

Much has been made of the club's recent run of success, couched as a negative. As in, what team would want to face the Flyers right now, or in the playoffs? Well, there is one team who fears no one in the Eastern Conference and is on their longest win streak since the 1970s -- the Boston Bruins.

Craig Berube's team has three more games ahead: on Monday at home against the Kings, at the Rangers on Wednesday and home against Toronto on Friday, before they can welcome the #1 seeded B's next Sunday afternoon in front of a national audience. Much needs to be done before then. 

Jaden Schwartz provided the lone offense for the Blues, who could have clinched a playoff berth outright with at least one point, but instead lost two in a row for the first time since Feb. 26-28.

Ryan Miller came up with just 15 saves in his second regulation defeat as starter for St. Louis, which has only won twice in Philadelphia since 1997.

Mason loomed large during a St. Louis power play at the midway point of the third period. While seated in his crease, he denied an initial shot and two rebound tries by Derek Roy to keep it a 2-1 contest. He made eight more saves over the final 20 minutes to help the hosts stay in front.

"(He had) two or three whacks at it. It was kind of a weird shot that got through. I was able to kind of just reach back and just keep swatting at it," Mason said. "Big saves and I was able to hold it down and then we got the goal shortly after that. [They were] saves that needed to be made."

Voracek later provided a long-awaited insurance marker, a wrister inside the near post from the left wing off a Giroux pass with 4:19 to play.

Miller was pulled for an extra attacker with 3:12 on the clock and the move backfired as Simmonds hit the empty cage less than 30 seconds later for a 4-1 contest.

Giroux hit the right post and then the back of Miller's skate on the Flyers' opening power-play chance in the first five minutes of play, and it proved to be an omen as the Blues ended up capitalizing.

Vinny Lecavalier was slow to backcheck in transition, and Schwartz beat Mason from the left wing off a 2-on-1 break thanks to a pass from Kevin Shattenkirk at 6:23.

Hartnell pumped one home on the advantage after only 57 seconds elapsed in the second period, and the Flyers took the lead for good with 6:36 remaining after Schenn followed up a Simmonds rebound and beat a falling Miller up high.

"We were really good in the first and then didn't outwork the goalie in the third. You're down 2-1 and have the chances you get in the third period you have to outwork the goalie," offered Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock. "I thought his level of compete was harder than ours in and around the net area and we couldn't get the second and third chances that we probably need to."

Notes: Philly's top line of Giroux, Hartnell and Voracek combined for six points but accumulated 16 of their club's 20 penalty minutes ... Giroux has picked up five goals and 12 assists over 10 games in the month of March ... Flyers forward Steve Downie left the game on the opening shift after taking a hard but accidental hit from Blues forward Patrik Berglund. He did not return and was diagnosed with an upper-body injury ... Blues defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo played his first game since March 9 ... The Flyers have given up 11 short-handed goals this season, tied with Edmonton for the most in the NHL ... Entering play, the Blues were 26-0-3 when leading after the first period and 38-1-5 in games in which they scored first.
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