Flyers' Mason raises game in win over Panthers

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Flyers' Mason raises game in win over Panthers

As with anything worthwhile, new Flyers coach Craig Berube’s stronger team defense won’t happen overnight.

That’s a big part of why the Florida Panthers led 6-1 in shots after the first 3:30 on Tuesday. And 25-17 after 40 minutes. And 33-21 after 50 minutes.

Goalie Steve Mason, however, is the reason the Flyers won, 2-1 (see game recap).

“Our goalie played unbelievable for us tonight,” Scott Hartnell said. “He definitely won us the game, and that’s what you need in a goaltender -- to win you some games sometimes.”

Mason, making his second consecutive start of the season and third overall, kept his team alive in what was only the second game at the Wells Fargo Center of this young season. While the Flyers led 2-0 through almost all of the second period, that score is somewhat deceptive.

The Flyers once again committed some of the same sins that led to Peter Laviolette’s firing. They were sloppy in their own zone and silent through their five power-play chances. The two early goals they did score were thanks largely to a wildly out-of-position and injured Panthers goalie Tim Thomas.

Mason, though, was stellar and consistent throughout.

Berube spouted compliments about Mason’s game as if he were listing the qualifications of a Vezina winner.

“Composure in net,” Berube said. “He looked real solid. Right on top of things. Saw all the pucks. Just solid. Just looked big in net.”

In fact, the young Flyers’ goaltender has looked sharp through each of his three starts. On Tuesday, though, he brought it to another level, and was responsible for most -- if not all -- of the Flyers’ highlight reel.

With just about a minute left to play in the first, Mason stoned Panthers center Aleksander Barkov with an acrobatic move that required him to basically do a split in mid-air.

Early in the second, Mason made up for a Kimmo Timonen fumble that led to a shorthanded breakaway attempt by Shawn Matthias, turning away the centerman.

He remained calm in the third period when a Jay Rosehill penalty resulted in four minutes of shorthanded play for the defense in front of him, which hadn’t yet had a full practice to work on Berube’s new system.

“Part of the position is coming up big at key opportunities,” Mason said. “At the end of the first period, there were a couple saves that needed to be made in order to preserve the lead, and moving forward it was something to build off. Feeling good about that right now.”

The long goal Mason did give up came with just six seconds left in the second period, the kind of marker than can sway a game’s momentum. Instead, when he returned for the final stanza, Mason never lost a step.

It was exactly what the Flyers needed in order to escape Tuesday night with their first win of the season -- as captain Claude Giroux noted, the game itself was far from a pretty one.

In total, he stopped 33 Panthers shots.

“He played great,” Braydon Coburn said. “We needed him to play really good. He definitely stood on his head for us.”

“It could have been a very different hockey game if he didn’t have the game that he had,” Brayden Schenn added.

At his introductory press conference, Berube was asked how he’d prefer to handle the Flyers’ goalie situation -- whether he likes the idea of a tandem or he’d rather have a clear No. 1.

“I think that’ll work itself out,” he said at the time, coyly. He repeated the sentiment once again after Tuesday’s win: "That will play itself out."

As for Mason, he was honored to receive the start in Berube’s coaching debut, especially since it was the first time either he or Ray Emery had played back-to-back games since the regular season kicked off. Laviolette had remained true to the every-other-game goalie system.

“Regardless of what game it is, if you’re going in there that means the coach has confidence in you,” Mason said. “To get the back-to-back starts and be able to finally get the first one out of the way is definitely nice. But at the same time, it’s just one game. We have a whole schedule. It’s something to build off of, but it’s a small thing in the big picture right now.”

Based on how Tuesday worked itself out, however, it should be difficult for Berube not to award the start in Friday’s game against the Phoenix Coyotes to Mason.

It’s far from on Mason’s mind, however. To him and to Emery, the new coach doesn’t reawaken any kind of debate on starting goaltenders.

“That’s up to Chief to decide who goes in,” he said. “I’ll never go and ask him if I’m playing. I’ll wait to hear from him.”

2016-17 Flyers evaluation: Goaltending

2016-17 Flyers evaluation: Goaltending

We begin our series reviewing the Flyers' 2016-17 roster with a look at the goaltenders. This is the first part of a four-part series.

What should have been a genuine competition in net for two players to win the prize of a long-term contract never did pan out for the Flyers this season.

Coming out of training camp, general manager Ron Hextall said goaltending was going to be the club's biggest strength with two goalies -- Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth -- essentially being 1-A and 1-B.

Instead, they both failed terribly with inconsistent performances that mirrored the skaters in front of them.

With Neuvirth already locked up for next season, all signs point to Mason leaving via free agency. That means Hextall has to find a replacement for Mason.

"We'll use the best option that's realistic for us," Hextall said recently. "Obviously, you've got salary cap, you've got term. There's a lot of factors that go into this. It's not just one. It's not just OK, let's go out and get the best goalie, whoever that might be.

"If we can get him, there's more to it than that. We'll work through our process here and in the end, we'll figure out what's our best option for next year, and the following year and after. We do have kids coming, and I think everybody knows it. 

"I don't have a lot of interest in getting into a long, drawn-out deal with a goaltender, but again we'll look at our options and move when we feel is our best option at the appropriate time."

Here's our look at the goaltenders (alphabetically) this past season.

Steve Mason 
Age: Turns 29 on May 29
Record: 58 GP; 26-21-8
Stats: 2.66 GAA; .908 SV%
Cap hit: UFA who earned $4.1 million

We've got to give Mason this much credit: For a guy dealing from the bottom of the deck, he has a lot of guts. How else can you explain how he went into Hextall's office on breakup day and asked to know his status ASAP and oh, one more: I didn't like Dave Hakstol's goalie platoon idea, and if you want me back, that's a dealbreaker. This was Mason's poorest season among the four full ones in Philadelphia. He, like Neuvirth, was maddeningly inconsistent right from the get-go until the final 17 games, when he produced some impressive numbers as the club's true No. 1 -- 10-5-2 record, 2.14 goals-against average, .926 save percentage and two shutouts. In between, anything else was possible. There's a reason why the Flyers didn't re-sign him in-season like they did with Neuvirth. They feel he's going to want more term, more money and they have a slew of talent in the minors and Europe itching to get a chance to play in Philadelphia. At least one of the four goalie prospects will be NHL-ready within two years. Mason talked like a goalie going out the door down the stretch and yet, he played like one deserving of a new contract over the final month-plus. His unedited yet honest criticism of the team on a nightly basis earned him the respect of the media but did little to gather support within the room from teammates. Many felt he needed to shut his mouth. There are two kinds of goalies: those you play for and those you play in front of. The feeling was more than a few Flyers would choose the latter and those are not the type of goalies teams rally around to win Stanley Cups. It appears management realizes that could be a problem. He'll most likely go to free agency.

Michal Neuvirth 
Age: Turned 29 on March 23 
Record: 28 GP; 11-11-1
Stats: 2.82 GAA; .891 SV%
Cap hit: $2.5 million (re-signed in-season)

After a strong playoff performance in 2016 in which he showed he could be a No. 1 goalie again, Neuvirth came into the season much like Mason, knowing a good year would mean a new deal. Well, he got a two-year contract at a reduced price because of injury. A left knee strain caused him to miss 24 games this season. His start was poor -- e.g. four goals against on 16 shots vs. Chicago -- and despite a few wins, he continued to give up too many goals, showed some promise in February, but never really gained his footing in the crease. To his credit, he doesn't pout when he's not playing and he almost never criticizes the club in such a way as to offend his teammates. And teammates respect him for that. Near the end of the year, he collapsed in net from a sinus infection and dehydration and then concussed himself by passing out backward onto the ice. Hextall is convinced he'll have a bounce-back season next year, but the bottom line is that he'll never survive a full season and 30-32 games played is the most you can count on from him. Given the club chose him over Mason to re-sign, it's unlikely he'll be exposed in the expansion draft.

Anthony Stolarz
Age: Turns 24 on January 20 
Record: 7 GP; 2-1-0
Stats: 1.93 GAA; .936 SV%
Cap hit: RFA, who earned $753,333 (pro-rated)

Remember the movie There's Something About Mary? Well, if the Flyers produced such a movie, it might be titled, There's Something About Stolie. As in, there's something about this 6-foot-6 giant that the organization doesn't like. Maybe it's his mechanics, which seem awkward at times. Or maybe it's because some in the Flyers' organization feel he makes the tough saves but gives up the easy one down low, or whiffs with the glove hand. He only had seven appearances this season. Hakstol flatly refused to play him when Neuvirth was injured -- Mason got 22 starts -- and that showed a lack of confidence. That apparently extends to Hextall as well. When asked during his after-the-season press conference whether he would be comfortable with Neuvirth as his starter and Stolarz as his backup next season, Hextall didn't answer the question in affirmative fashion. With Alex Lyon, Carter Hart and Felix Sandstorm all vying for the same opportunity Stolarz got in limited doses, the position of backup on this club remains unsolved. The door is not shut on Stolarz yet, but it's not fully open either. Stolarz suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee at season's end with the Phantoms and will miss up to four months. All meniscus tears require surgery. This is worse than an MCL sprain. The 23-year-old needs to have a great training camp to change people's minds in the organization that he's the real deal. And that's complicated by the fact his injury now sets him back. Expect him to be exposed in the expansion draft.

Up next: A look back at the defense.

NHL Playoffs: Rangers ride Zuccarello to 3-1 win in series-clinching Game 6

NHL Playoffs: Rangers ride Zuccarello to 3-1 win in series-clinching Game 6

NEW YORK -- Mats Zuccarello scored twice in the second period and the New York Rangers beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-1 in Game 6 on Saturday night to advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Derek Stepan also scored and Henrik Lundqvist stopped 27 shots to help New York get past the first round for the fifth time in six years. The Rangers won three straight after falling behind 2-1 to beat Montreal for the ninth time in 16 postseason series.

The Rangers will face the winner of the Ottawa-Boston series, which the Senators lead 3-2.

Alexei Emelin scored for Montreal and Carey Price finished with 20 saves. The Canadiens, winners of the Atlantic Division after missing the playoffs last year, were bounced from the postseason by the Rangers for the second time in four years. In 2014, it was in the conference finals (see full recap).

Paajarvi's OT goal gives Blues 4-3 win to oust Wild in 5
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Magnus Paajarvi scored at the 9:42 mark in overtime, giving the St. Louis Blues a 4-3 victory over Minnesota on Saturday in Game 5 of their playoff series, eliminating the Wild.

The Blues advanced to play Nashville in the second round.

Jake Allen made 34 saves for the Blues, who led 2-0 and 3-1 before a furious rally by the Wild to try to keep their season alive forced the extra frame.

Paajarvi's first career playoff goal gave Blues coach Mike Yeo the satisfaction of beating the team that fired him a little over a year ago.

Mikko Koivu and Jason Zucker scored to bring the Wild back from their second two-goal hole, a deficit that held past the midpoint of the third period (see full recap).