Steve Mason will start Game 4 but there was never a goalie controversy anyway

Steve Mason will start Game 4 but there was never a goalie controversy anyway

After what transpired in Game 3 this past Tuesday night, you could see this one coming from a mile away.

Philadelphia Flyers head coach Craig Berube confirmed today that Steve Mason will be back between the pipes and start Game 4 against the New York Rangers tomorrow night at Wells Fargo Center.

It seems like Mason is fully healthy from that mysterious upper-body injury he suffered in a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the last weekend of the regular season.

And while backup Ray Emery filled in admirably in Games 1 and 2 and was arguably the Flyers’ best player in those two games leading some to think there was some sort of controversy brewing, Mason is and was always the No. 1 goalie when fully healthy.

And for good reason.

Mason earned the spot with the way he played this season. He finished with a 33-18-7 record, .914 save percentage and 2.50 goals-against average in 61 regular-season appearances while separating himself from Emery. Granted Emery made just 28 appearances in the regular season, but you get the point.

No slight toward Emery as he’s done exactly what’s been asked of him in the backup role this season, but Mason is and always has been the better option, no questions asked.

And that bodes even more true in this series against the Rangers for a couple of reasons.

First, Mason has superior lateral movement.

Look at most of the goals the Rangers have scored so far in the series. Most of the goals have come as a result of Emery being forced to move post-to-post and that isn’t his strong point these days, especially after that near career-ending hip surgery he underwent a few years ago during his first stint as a Flyer.

With all the puck possession the Rangers have had in this series, it has allowed their playmakers to make slick passes and get Emery moving as Flyers defenders have been on their heels.

Mason is much better going post-to-post so he’ll have better opportunities to shut down those kinds of Rangers chances. That’s huge, especially if the Rangers continue to control the puck as much as they have in the series. We haven’t seen any reason so far to think they won’t.

Second, Mason is a much better at handling the puck than Emery is. In fact, Mason is one of the better puck-handling goaltenders in the entire league.

That’s a huge weapon because of how effective the Rangers have forechecked so far in the series. They’ve won the majority of the board battles after dump-ins and chip-ins and those won battles have led to a ton of scoring chances.

Mason has the ability to come out of his net and deftly play the puck to a teammate or out of the zone before the Rangers can start their forecheck and help start the Flyers down the other end of the ice.

Think along the lines of two years ago when the Flyers played the New Jersey Devils in the second round.

Then Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette’s aggressive forechecking system was thwarted before it began because of the way Devils goalie Marty Brodeur played the puck. The Flyers were never able to figure out a real way around that.

Now Mason is not Brodeur when it comes to playing the puck. No goalie is. But that puck-handling presence could toss a major wrench into the way the Rangers attack.

In case you tuned out, Emery was pulled in third period of Game 3 and replaced by Mason, who made three saves in 7:15 of ice time.

But cut Emery some slack. He obviously wasn’t great in Game 3 and most of the goals he let in were softies. Derek Stepan and Dan Carcillo’s goals had no business going in. Dan Girardi’s goal was a rocket from the blue line but Emery still had a shot at it. Only Marty St. Louis’ deflection from the high slot was the one Emery had no shot at.

But Emery was far from the only reason the Flyers lost Game 3. They barely had any sort of puck possession or real, sustained offensive-zone time. They had 31 shots on net but how many times was Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist truly tested?

The Flyers once again couldn’t stay out of the penalty box as they took five penalties and if it wasn’t for two really dumb penalties by Rangers forward Benoit Pouliot that negated Rangers power plays, the first period could have been a whole lot worse.

The Flyers’ power play was also a mess as it went 0-for-5 and generated just three total shots on goal. They also struggled mightily getting shots through to Lundqvist as the Rangers blocked 28 shots but it seemed like they blocked a million of them.

The good news is that there are two days off between Games 3 and 4. That’s two days of adjustments for the Flyers to make before the puck is dropped tomorrow night.

Actually not falling behind by two goals in the first period and jumping out to a lead would be a nice adjustment to start with.

Flyers answer Ron Hextall's plea with comeback OT win over Islanders

Flyers answer Ron Hextall's plea with comeback OT win over Islanders

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK — Shayne Gostisbehere’s fist pump was so vicious and mighty, the celebration was probably felt back in Philadelphia.

This was an exultation the entire Flyers felt, too.

When it started to look like the bye week wasn’t the break they needed, the Flyers reached down deep and got one Sunday night at the Barclays Center in the form of a 3-2 overtime victory over the Islanders (see Instant Replay).

“It allows you to take a breath,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “That’s one thing for sure.”

A sigh of relief for a team beaten and bruised — losers of three straight by a combined score of 15-4, not to mention 3-9-3 in its past 15 games. The Flyers had lost the day prior on home ice to the Devils, 4-1, with a performance not exactly inspiring confidence following five days off.

On Sunday, they trailed 2-0 in the second period.

“We've got to get better at dealing with adversity when something goes wrong,” general manager Ron Hextall said bluntly before the game. “We need to get back on the horse and get back going. Big deal, a team scored a goal. We need to react better to it.”

Finally, the Flyers reacted the way their GM had been hoping.

They flipped the deficit into a victory when Gostisbehere skated behind the net and put the puck on Claude Giroux’s stick for the game-winner with 1:40 left in the extra session. Gostisbehere whipped his arm through the air and embraced Giroux, along with Jakub Voracek, who started the play by stripping Islanders captain John Tavares.

“On a lot of different levels, it’s an important win,” Hakstol said. “It’s huge. And more importantly for us, a great effort. Thought we deserved the two points. Sometimes maybe that’s what it takes to get over the hump — a tremendous effort for 60-plus minutes. I thought we got that out of everyone tonight.”

For Giroux, it was his first goal since Dec. 21.

For Steve Mason, his first win since Dec. 21.

And for the Flyers, their first road victory since Dec. 14, as they went 0-6-3 in the previous nine games away from home.

Yeah, “it was needed,” as Wayne Simmonds said of the win.

“We’ve been fighting it lately and I thought that was a good game from start to finish,” he said. “I thought everyone played well. I think we made bounces go our way tonight instead of hoping and waiting.”

Simmonds scored what might have been the biggest goal of the game. The Flyers, down 1-0 in the second period, came up empty for 33 seconds of a 5-on-3 power play and the proceeding 5-on-4 advantage. The Islanders then padded the lead to 2-0 moments later, putting the Flyers’ backs against the wall.

But Simmonds kept his team from uncoiling with a goal at 14:10 of the period, giving the Flyers life at second intermission. If not for that score, who knows how the Flyers come out in the third period, trailing by multiple goals yet again.

"I think we were plying well,” Giroux said. “We had a lot of chances and [the puck] wasn't going in. Everybody on the bench was frustrated. When Wayne got that first goal, I think [there was] a little relief on the bench. I haven't seen a team celebrate so much just for a first goal. It was kind of a relief and we had a little boost out of that.”

Ivan Provorov scored the equalizer 1:47 into the final period when he maintained possession from the blue line to the circle, adeptly skating around two Islanders to put the puck on net. Provorov’s pass to Travis Konecny hit off the skate of New York’s Adam Pelech and into the net.

“I came off the bench and I saw [Brayden Schenn] was going into the zone, so I took a few hard strides, got the puck from him and I saw it was kind of an odd-man situation,” Provorov said. “I held on to the puck a little bit, saw T.K. going backdoor, passed it there and it went off their D skate.”

Just as important as the timely goals was the Flyers’ discipline. Against the Devils, the Flyers compiled 19 penalty minutes, forcing them on seven penalty kills. This time, the Flyers sharpened up, not allowing the Islanders a power play until midway through the third period. In total, they had just four penalty minutes and killed off both power plays faced.

That gave them a chance.

“We just kept saying it the whole time, ‘Keep going, keep going, guys,’” Simmonds said. “We just need one [goal] and from one comes two, and Mase held the fort.”

Mason made 17 of his 36 saves in the third period and overtime combined.

Now, the Flyers at least go into another important back-to-back — starting Wednesday at the Rangers before welcoming the Maple Leafs Thursday — with some confidence instead of a lost weekend.

“I thought the focus was purely on going out and playing well,” Hakstol said. “And you know, that’s harder to do than you might know — when you start to feel some of the pressure without a win in a little bit. I really liked that side of it. Even in that situation, all the guys played well. Hopefully that puts our entire team in the right direction.’’

Best of NHL: Crosby scores league-leading 28th goal in win vs. Bruins

Best of NHL: Crosby scores league-leading 28th goal in win vs. Bruins

PITTSBURGH -- Conor Sheary scored two goals, Sidney Crosby added his league-leading 28th and the Pittsburgh Penguins won their fourth straight game, 5-1 over the Boston Bruins 5-1 on Sunday.

Pittsburgh led 2-1 through two periods before breaking out in the third with three goals in a span of 2 minutes, 57 seconds.

Sheary scored his 17th and has nine goals in nine games. Bryan Rust added his 12th and Patric Hornqvist his 11th for the Penguins, who won a season-high seventh straight at home. Pittsburgh the NHL's best home team, is 13-0-1 in its last 14 home games.

Evgeni Malkin had two assists for a season-best seven-game point streak. Crosby added two assists for a three-point game. Matt Murray made 44 saves to win his fourth straight game.

David Krejci scored his 11th for the Bruins, who have lost four straight and five of their last six (see full recap).

Rangers shut out Red Wings in 1-0 OT win
DETROIT -- J.T. Miller scored at 1:56 of overtime to lift the New York Rangers to a 1-0 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday.

Henrik Lundqvist made 21 saves for his second shutout of the season and 61st of his career. The Rangers managed only 19 shots in a game that featured few memorable chances by either team.

The winner came when Mats Zuccarello and Miller swooped in alone on Detroit goalie Jared Coreau. Zuccarello made a simple pass to Miller, who lifted the puck over Coreau for his 16th goal of the season.

Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall played for the first time since Jan. 4, returning from a lower-body injury. The Red Wings put forward Drew Miller on waivers (see full recap).

Atikinson lifts Jackets over Senators in wild OT win
OTTAWA, Ontario -- Cam Atkinson's second goal of the game at 1:09 of overtime lifted the Columbus Blue Jackets a 7-6 win over the Ottawa Senators on Sunday night.

Atkinson had a breakaway after a shot by Senators captain Erik Karlsson missed the Columbus net and went around the boards out to Atkinson, who was at center-ice.

The Blue Jackets trailed 5-3 after two periods before Lukas Sedlak and Matt Calvert scored 31 seconds apart to tie it less than 2 1/2 minutes into the third. Atklnson then gave Columbus a 6-5 lead with 9:10 remaining, before Kyle Turries tied it for Ottawa on the power play less than 2 minutes later.

Nick Foligno, Scott Harrington and Zach Werenski also scored for the Blue Jackets, and Joonas Korpisalo finished with 28 saves.

Zach Smith and Mike Hoffman each had two goals and Mark Stone also scored for the Senators. Mike Condon had 22 saves (see full recap).