Saturday, April 11, 2015

In the end, Flyers lose to Senators, but at least tried to do that right

Philadelphia, PA -- It's fitting that, given the cold and snowy winter, coupled with recent wild swings in weather, the final game of the 2014-15 season in Philadelphia occurred on a day when the sky broke open, there was a refreshing breeze and temperatures soared near normal.

Yes, it was Bizarro Season from start to finish, and at its conclusion, a significant chunk of the fan base (and perhaps some of the front office) both home and at the venue on Broad Street were rooting against the Orange and Black in order to see a hated rival head home early and draft position improve.

It's well past time for a break. At least the gracious hosts didn't do what they've done all year, insisting on keeping us well past quittin' time.

The end result was that Ottawa rookie Mark Stone tallied twice as the Senators gained a well-earned playoff berth thanks to a 3-1 decision over Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon, a win which temporarily pushed the Penguins closer to the precipice of elimination.

"Yeah, it’s tough. They move on, and we’re done. It’s tough to take," said Flyers captain Claude Giroux, who for better or worse will see two out of three years as captain without a postseason berth. "They’ve been playing very well lately, and there’s a reason why they’re in the playoffs. The last 20 games, they’ve been one of the hottest teams in the league. It’s tough to watch.”

Stone ensured his team would reach the postseason on an insurance tally with just over eight minutes to play in the contest, surely one of the easiest of his 26 this season.

Brandon Manning controlled the puck to the right of Mason and chipped ahead for Jake Voracek, but Stone pounced, stripped the Philly winger between his skates and scored through the five-hole to provide the Senators a 3-1 advantage. 

Carlo Colaiacovo rang a shot off the pipe inside of four minutes left, and just when Mason was exiting his crease for an extra skater, Jason Akeson committed a holding infraction to negate any advantage with 3:08 to play.

Ottawa was 14 points out of the playoff picture in midseason then roared back thanks in large part to rookie netminder Andrew Hammond, who finished the contest with 34 saves. Jean-Gabriel Pageau netted the other marker.

Matt Read capped a disappointing, injury-plagued year with his eighth and final score, while Steve Mason stopped only 19 shots in defeat.

The goaltender without a mentor ended the season with a .928 save percentage, which is the second-best single-season save percentage in franchise history for a nominal starter.  The only one higher was Bernie Parent’s .933 save percentage in 1973-74. Mason's 2.25 goals-against average was the lowest for a regular Flyers goaltender since 2003-04.

“It’s disappointing that you play 82 games all season long, it’s a long mental and physical grind. To come up short of your goal, it’s a disappointing feeling. It’s something that you take in the summer and you try to do everything you can in your power to make sure so next season you don’t have to feel this way," Mason stated.

It will no doubt be the final game for several members of the franchise both on and off the ice.

Later tonight, against 30th-ranked Buffalo, Pittsburgh needs to win and they're in. Should the Sabres pull off a miracle and win, and the Bruins take care of business in Tampa, there will be a level of Schadenfreude in the Delaware Valley not seen in years. They'd have to acknowledge the Flyers' own role in making it happen.

"My computer is not going on, on the flight home. I’m not watching one second of hockey tonight. Just going to take a while here to enjoy this before we get ready for the next round," noted Sens head coach Dave Cameron, facing a well-earned rest tonight before continuing on.

On the game's first power play, Mason somehow decided to wander to the side of his crease to try and play a dump-in, then Clarke MacArthur gained possession and fired in front where Stone was alone to hit the empty net at 6:06.

“Yeah it was just a weird play. It hit off my pad and I was coming out of the net hard. I made one mistake in the first play there," he conceded.

Hammond came up with the best save in the early going on the Flyers' first advantage, smothering a Brayden Schenn rebound try while diving forward in his crease with less than five minutes in the first.

The Flyers did manage to tie the game early in the middle frame, after killing off a second short-handed situation. Schenn carried behind the Ottawa net from the left wing to the right before wheeling around and sliding a cross-crease pass for a Read tap-in with 1:23 elapsed.

Both goaltenders traded key saves from there, with Mason denying a Pageau break-in and Hammond turning aside Vinny Lecavalier on the following shift.

“I’ve never had a stretch of hockey like this in my life. I don’t think anyone can explain. I’ve just been having so much fun. Everyone put their work in and it was a good cumulative effort and tonight was the result," said Hammond, a Bowling Green product whose run is reminiscent of Sean Burke's effort to send the Devils to their first playoffs back in 1988.

Mason was the next to flinch, though, reaching out lamely to play a Marc Methot centering feed from behind the goal line which allowed Pageau, who decided to crash the net, to poke the puck home at the far post from the left side with 3:42 to play in the second.

Michael Raffl nearly tied the score on the next shift, as his high shot from the right wing trickled past Hammond, but not so far that the Sens rookie couldn't prevent a rebound by falling on his back. 

Notes:  The Flyers ended the season 23-11-7 on home ice ... The Orange and Black finished the season with a 28.0 home power play percentage, which is a franchise high for the years in which the home percentage is available (1982-83 onward) ... Voracek, Schenn and Couturier each played in all 82 games this season.  It’s the third consecutive season of perfect attendance for Voracek and the second in a row for Schenn and Couturier ... Prior to the contest, the Flyers handed out their seasonal awards. Voracek took home the Bob Clarke Trophy as team MVP, while Mark Streit was given the Barry Ashbee Trophy as well as the Class Guy Award, and Chris VandeVelde snagged the Pelle Lindbergh Memorial as most improved player. 
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