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.”

Best of NHL: Lightning capture OT win over Red Wings

Best of NHL: Lightning capture OT win over Red Wings

DETROIT -- Nikita Kucherov scored 3:28 into overtime to lift the Tampa Bay Lightning over the Detroit Red Wings 2-1 on Friday night.

Situated on the edge of the crease, Kucherov redirected a hard pass from Brayden Point into the net.

The Lightning are one point behind the Boston Bruins and New York Islanders for the final Eastern Conference wild card.

Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg opened the scoring 8:03 into the second period. Taking a backhand pass from Gustav Nyquist, Zetterberg flipped a knuckling wrist shot toward the goal and over the stick-side shoulder of goalie Andrei Vasilievskiy, who struggled to find the puck through the screen of teammate Point (see full recap).

Islanders notch shootout win over Penguins
PITTSBURGH -- John Tavares and Anthony Beauvillier scored in the shootout to lead the New York Islanders over the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 on Friday night.

Beauvillier opened the shootout with a goal, and Tavares snapped a wrist shot past Marc-Andre Fleury in the next round. Sidney Crosby scored in the shootout for Pittsburgh, but Jaroslav Halak, making his first start since Dec. 29, stopped Phil Kessel and Nick Bonino.

Anders Lee scored his 28th goal of the season, while Brock Nelson got his 17th and Casey Cizikas his eighth for the Islanders, who moved into the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. New York is tied with Boston at 82 points, but the Islanders have a game in hand on the Bruins. The Islanders have 18 wins in 31 games since Doug Weight was named interim coach on Jan. 17, replacing Jack Capuano.

Halak, a former All-Star, made 37 saves (see full recap).

Cracknell nets first hat trick in Stars' win
DALLAS -- Adam Cracknell got his first hat trick in seven NHL seasons and the Dallas Stars handed the San Jose Sharks their fifth straight loss, 6-1 on Friday night.

Cracknell opened the scoring in the first period, capped a three-goal flurry in the second and beat goalie Aaron Dell on a short-handed breakaway in the third for his career-high 10th goal of the season.

The Sharks entered two points ahead of Anaheim and Edmonton in the Pacific Division despite their longest losing streak of the season. San Jose has been outscored 16-5 during the stretch.

Brett Ritchie, Jamie Benn and John Klingberg also scored for the Stars.

Joe Thornton scored for San Jose on the power play in the second period. Dell had 23 saves.

Dallas' Kari Lehtonen made 20 saves four nights after shutting out San Jose (see full recap).

Flyers-Wild 10 observations: Sean Couturier shows flash, Matt Read answers call & more

Flyers-Wild 10 observations: Sean Couturier shows flash, Matt Read answers call & more

You know Dave Hakstol has reached crisis measures when he takes a skill player in Travis Konecny and throws him onto the fourth line while promoting Matt Read to the top line.

This was risk-taking at its craziest to generate some enthusiasm and life into a Flyers squad that didn't show much of a pulse a few nights earlier in Winnipeg.

Guess what?

It worked during a 3-1 victory on Thursday, the Flyers' fifth straight win over the Wild going back a few years (see Instant Replay).

Their playoff hopes still flicker.

As much as the fan base hated the lineup moves, consider this: general manager Ron Hextall was very explicit this week in saying that the roster Hakstol has right now is what it is. Hextall is not going to promote any young Phantoms into a bad situation when they are headed for what could be a decent playoff run in the AHL.

Therefore, as my former colleague Bill Lyon would say, here are 10 things I think, I think …

1. The Flyers began the game as they have so often this season with yet another turnover and scoring chance against them. Rinse and repeat. The Flyers had three turnovers in less than five minutes to start the game.

2. Minutes later, Steve Mason coughed up a bad rebound off his stick and Zach Parise burned him with a gimme goal for a 1-0 lead. Mason had issues in this one with rebounds that were looking like grenades, but he settled down with a strong final two periods with 24 saves. This was Mason's 100th win as a Flyer (see game story).

3. You had to see it to believe it. Sean Couturier with a nice backhand shot through Devan Dubnyk's five-hole to make it a 1-1 game near the end of the opening period (see feature highlight). I haven't seen that kind of offensive move from Couturier in quite some time. Question is, why can't he do that nightly instead of semiannually? That's the offensive spark you know Couturier is capable of providing.

4. The Wild were very aggressive in this one as they were trying to clinch a playoff spot, so the Flyers had to match that intensity. The Flyers more than matched it. This was far, far better than what Hakstol's team brought to the ice in Winnipeg. Not even close, as the Flyers dominated.

5. Matt Read had a quick stick -- no other way to explain it -- on his goal in the second period off a series of Wild turnovers that came about because of a play set up by Jakub Voracek. That goal seemingly stunned Dubnyk. It was Read's second goal in the last two games. He was all over the ice in this one. Many nights this season, Read was invisible. Not this game.

6. The Flyers had some genuine scoring chances in this game. You had to wonder where this desire to skate, create and score was all through the month of February and into March. The Flyers had strong forecheck pressure and a rebound-attack mentality the entire second period. If that had happened with regularity down the stretch, this team would be sitting in the wild card right now.

7. While the shake-up of the lines obviously benefited Read, it did little for Konecny and actually set him back. He was invisible. No shots. No hits. Invisible with little ice time. Really can't figure this move out but obviously, Hakstol is upset with him for some reason.

8. Minnesota went all in at the NHL trade deadline to get Martin Hanzal and Ryan White, forking over four draft picks, including a first-rounder. The Wild were leading the Central Division before losing six straight (and eight of nine) that allowed Chicago to regain the top spot in the division. The Wild don't look like the same confident, surging team it was a month ago in the Western Conference.

9. Minnesota had a strong push in the final five minutes and the Flyers had some initial difficulty answering that until the final minute when Wayne Simmonds picked up his 300th point as a Flyer on Voracek's empty-net goal to seal the deal. A nice way to finish off a complete effort by everyone involved.

10. The Flyers picked up two points on Boston, which lost to Tampa Bay, and are six behind the Bruins in the wild card. They still remain a l-o-n-g shot to make the playoffs, given the sheer number of teams ahead of them that they need to climb over.