Friday, April 25, 2014

Mason steals one, helping lethargic Flyers even series

Philadelphia, PA -- Steve Mason waited five years and two days to make his next postseason start, and didn't waste the opportunity, stopping 37 shots to lead the Philadelphia Flyers to a 2-1 decision over the New York Rangers to even this Eastern Conference quarterfinal series at two games apiece.

In his first start since exiting an April 12 game at Pittsburgh with an upper- body injury, Mason allowed a first-period strike from Dominic Moore and then stayed perfect for the rest of the contest to record his initial playoff victory.

Mason last saw significant postseason action during his rookie season, in the 2009 Western quarters against the Detroit Red Wings, losing all four games for the Columbus Blue Jackets and giving up 17 goals -- six in his last appearance as a starter on April 23, 2009.

"It was nice to be busy and get some nice saves under my belt right off the bat. I don't really dwell on what happened five years ago. For me this is a new opportunity, and for me to finally get in there after five games felt really good," Mason admitted.

If it would have been legal, and if Frank Seravalli could have gotten away with it, he would have made Mason all three stars and would have been escorted from the Wells Fargo Center on the hands of a grateful throng of fans. 

Matt Read and Jakub Voracek supplied the offense for the Flyers, who recovered from a 4-1 defeat in Tuesday's Game 3.

Claude Giroux was held scoreless for the fourth straight contest, but did manage to backup a prediction that the Orange and Black would win. He coyly suggested his best was yet to come, despite being limited to two assists thus far under heavy Rangers' checking.

"Obviously as an individual you want to help the team win, and there's room for improvement, but that's the playoffs -- you never know what's coming up," Giroux said. 

Henrik Lundqvist came up with 23 stops for the Rangers, who can steal back momentum on home ice for Game 5 on Sunday afternoon.

"Absolutely, we believe in ourselves here. We’ve got to just take it day by day, get ready for practice, look at a few things, correct a few things, but have faith," said Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who seemed to have pinched his right shoulder on a hit absorbed in the third period. "Play the way we know we’re capable of and we’ll be alright and just take care of business here in game five and focus on that one.” 

The hosts assumed the lead for good with 7:22 elapsed in the second period on a power play created when Moore cross-checked Claude Giroux. Mark Streit kept the puck in the zone long enough to find Brayden Schenn, who slid a pass diagonally from the right point to the left circle, where Voracek redirected it under the crossbar for a 2-1 contest.

Outshot by a 16-6 margin in the first, the Flyers closed the gap to 12-11 in the middle period, relying a bit too much on Mason to keep things calm. That included a diving stick stop on McDonagh with seconds to go in the frame which resulted indirectly from another turnover by home defenseman Andy MacDonald.

New York opened the third with a 4-on-3 advantage that fizzled, and fired 10 unsuccessful shots on goal. Lundqvist was forced to make a pad stop on Read in front with 90 seconds left, and he went to the bench for an extra skater seconds later.  His teammates couldn't find an equalizer.

"The difference tonight is special teams. They beat us with one goal in that department," Lundqvist said of his club's power play which has gone 0-for-12 since Game 1. "It's a game where it's hard to create the big chances so when you get an opportunity on the power play or trying to kill their power play, it's going to be huge in this series."

After fending off an aggressive Flyers' power play early in the contest, the Rangers picked up the game's first goal.

MacDonald failed to corral the puck inside his own blue line as the last man. It was picked up by Brian Boyle, who fed ahead to Moore on the left wing. He followed up his own rebound by circling the cage and stuffing the puck past Mason's outstretched pad at the right post at 4:38.

"The original shot hit me in the head and went right back onto his tape. It's a save I've made before and have to make there," Mason admitted.

Read tied the game at 8:55, as he skated into a Jason Akeson shot from the left wing that caromed off the back wall and kicked back out into the opposite circle and beat Lundqvist to the short side.

"It was a 3-on-3 rush. Akeson made a great pass. He told me he meant to do that, throw the puck behind the boards, and it came right to me," Read said. "I just had to one-time it. I think Lundqvist got a piece of it but we'll take it."

Notes: The time in between Mason's playoff starts was 1,828 days ... Friday's win was the Flyers' first in the playoffs against the Rangers since May 25, 1997 in the clinching Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals ... Moore recorded his first playoff goal since May 17, 2011, for the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Boston Bruins ... Flyers defenseman Nicklas Grossmann fell awkwardly on his left leg while being checked into the end boards by Rangers forward Derek Dorsett with 5:25 gone in the second period. He left the game and did not return due to a lower-body injury.
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