Steve Mason turned away all three Predators he faced in Saturday night's shootout, and made this acrobatic save to rob Nashville's Matt Hendricks. (AP)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Steve Mason wants to be able to come through for the Flyers at key moments. That’s what he focuses on in practice. That’s what he plays the game for.
And in Saturday’s 3-2 shootout victory over the Nashville Predators (see Instant Replay), Mason had plenty of opportunities to do just that. The win was far from the Flyers’ best effort of the season -- but without Mason in net, it probably wouldn’t have been a win at all.
“I mean, it’s not the first time that we’ve seen that,” Claude Giroux said. “He’s been solid for us. I think at some points during the game we were a little sloppy, and he was able to shut the door for us and give us our confidence back.”
In all, Mason stopped 34 of the Predators’ 36 shots, and shut out all three players he faced in the shootout. In the first period, he stopped two early odd-man rushes to keep the game scoreless. At the very end of overtime, he silenced Colin Wilson on a breakway to secure the Flyers’ shootout appearance and, eventually, his first shootout win as a Flyer.
But it was the second save in the shootout, on a shot from Matt Hendricks, that was his most impressive. Mason appeared to get tripped up on Hendricks’ first move, but then rebounded and was able to stick with the Predators’ center.
“I bit hard on his first move and was kind of down and out,” Mason said. “But those are the battling types of saves that I try to work on in practice -- making sure that on the second opportunities, that you’re not giving up. And I’ve said it before, [I want] to come through in the games. That was one of the opportunities there.”
It was a big opportunity, particularly because the Flyers playing in front of him were not executing to the best of their abilities. For almost the entire first 40 minutes of Saturday’s game, the Flyers’ play was lackluster as best. They were slow, they were sloppy, they were undisciplined.
Though they never gave up and eventually managed to grind out a win – which brought their record back to .500 – the Flyers not named Steve Mason were largely not having a good night.
“We gave up too many odd-man rushes,” coach Craig Berube said. “We didn’t play good enough without the puck. Didn’t check good enough. When you do that, they have the puck too much and we don’t have it enough.”
Most of the game was played in the Flyers’ zone. Through it all, though, Mason was his consistently patient and confident self. As he has all season, he stopped shots through traffic and handled the puck wisely.
As Berube said, Mason “held [the Flyers] in there.”
“He did a great job once again,” Sean Couturier said. “Since the start of the year he’s been unbelievable. He’s making key saves at the right time and he’s keeping us in games when we’re not playing out best. He’s our best player for sure.”
The Flyers held the lead for all of one minute at Bridgestone Arena, when Giroux hammered home a slapshot late in the first period. But the Predators tied it up almost immediately when Mike Fisher scored, and they took the lead in the third period on Colin Wilson’s goal.
Taking a cue from Mason, who never stopped fighting, Couturier tied the game with just under seven minutes left in regulation. Vinny Lecavalier scored the sole shootout goal.
But, as Giroux said, it was the goaltender who kept the Flyers’ confidence intact the whole way through on Saturday.
It was the goaltender who gave the Flyers a chance to kick off their critical six-game road trip on the right foot. And it was the goaltender who was the night’s clear MVP -- but didn’t receive a nod as one of the game’s three stars.
“Mase played a great game,” Berube said. “I didn’t think we were very sharp, but they hung in there and they battled and they won a game.”