Mason plays strong in Flyers' win over Rangers

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Mason plays strong in Flyers' win over Rangers

BOX SCORE

If you’re looking for a bright star behind a darkened April sky, you just might find it behind the No. 35.

That’s where Flyers goalie Steve Mason resides.

The 24-year-old made his first home start at the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday and got the better of King Henrik Lundqvist.

The Rangers made a tenacious third-period “push” and Mason was the guy pushing back with 16 saves that period and 38 overall as the Flyers won, 4-2, to tighten the Eastern Conference playoff standings just a bit.

They are now five points out of a playoff spot with five games to play. Who knows?

This much is certain: Without Mason in the third period, the Flyers lose this game.

“It was his best period,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “They came hard. There was lots of plays from the slot, plays in tight, through screens and he was able to pick up a lot.

“Some of the shots from the outside, he was able to push them to the side and not kick out any in front. Really strong effort.”

Mason was making his third start in four appearances since being picked up at the trade deadline by the Flyers. He was able to give the Flyers their first win this season in which Ilya Bryzgalov wasn't in net.

Derek Stepan drew the Rangers to within 3-2 at 7:28 of the final period, just seconds after Mason had made several outstanding saves during a Ranger power play.

And then … with less than eight minutes to play, Mason went down and began flexing his right leg. Trainer Jim McCrossin came out as did Bryzgalov, who began warming up on the ice.

It was hard to tell if he was injured or cramping up but Mason stayed in the game.

“Just some major cramping,” Mason said to the relief of everyone. “Whether that was a mixture of nerves playing at home and wanting to play well, I’m not sure.”

They would have had to carry him out of the net on a stretcher, no?

“Yeah, it was an important game for myself and the team,” he replied. “As a hockey player, you want to be part of it. It was a must-win. A playoff race with them being the eighth playoff spot right now. It was a good performance to win.”

If the Eastern Conference standings were closer, it would be easy to get excited here but New York has such an easy schedule to end it -- Florida twice and struggling New Jersey
twice -- it’s impossible seeing the Rangers not making the playoffs.

Mason, however, gave the Flyers a chance at Buffalo in losing 1-0 and he did it again against the Rangers. He has a 1.82 goals-against average and .941 save percentage in four games.

“Well, you know I was saying before that I saw it before,” said Jakub Voracek, who scored his 19th goal on an empty-netter.

“He was rock solid for us tonight. Every game he played he gave us a chance to win, which is huge. We finally got some goals for him and we won.”

Voracek knows. He played with Mason in Columbus.

“You know, he was exactly the same as he was in the first year when he won the Rookie of the Year,” Voracek said of Mason’s Calder Trophy in 2008-09.

“And, you know, he was all over the place. He made a huge stop for us and he was a big key for us, too, and winning two more points today.”

The Rangers had won 11 of the last 12 games played between the two, dating back to March of 2011.

So what’s the secret of beating Lundqvist?

“We know he plays pretty deep in his net,” Brayden Schenn said. “The backdoor passes, he seems to get over there pretty quick. You just have to shoot the puck and create traffic, get rebounds and that's probably the best way to do it.”

Schenn’s eighth goal at 9:28 of the first period was a bit of a broken play, but the Flyers, whose goal scoring has been up and down this season, will take it.

Danny Briere brought it into the zone along the right boards and gave way to rookie defenseman Brandon Manning, a call-up for the concussed Kent Huskins.

Manning’s shot was blocked by Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto, but the rebound went nicely over to Schenn in the left slot and he ripped it past Lundqvist for a 1-0 lead.

“Manning got it on net,” Schenn said. “It was a fortunate bounce back to me and I will definitely take it.”

Erik Gustafsson’s play has picked up in recent weeks and it may have something to do with having to log more ice time because of mounting injuries on the blue line. That extra ice time is paying off.

Late in the period, Gustafsson took a saucer pass from Sean Couturier and put a shot with some Swedish on it. The puck muscled through Lundqvist’s pad for a 2-0 lead at 17:21.

“I saw a breakout on our end. I think Reader (Matt Read) have it to Coots (Couturier),” Gustafsson said. “Coots did a great job of carrying it down the wing. I saw an opportunity to join rush. It was a great pass from across. I just shot the puck and I was so happy to see it go in.”

Mason had nine saves in the first period, including two good ones on Dan Girardi and Ryan Callahan during a Ranger power play that stanza.

The Rangers cut their deficit in half early in the second period when Mats Zuccarello, using the rather tall Oliver Lauridsen as a screen, put one through Mason’s legs at 2:34.

When the Flyers' power play is on its mark, the entire complexion of a game changes. It’s no coincidence that during their recent four-game losing skid, the Flyers were 0 for 16 with the man advantage.

They scored seven goals Monday in Montreal and the power play gave them two. In this one, the Flyers squandered an opportunity right after Zuccarello’s goal by trying to be too perfect with passes and giving up on shots.

Seconds after that power play ended, however, the Flyers got another one. This time, they didn’t get fancy. Claude Giroux won a faceoff from the still-struggling Brad Richards and the puck slid up the high slot toward the point.

Kimmo Timonen, sensing a possible screen, skated in and unleashed off the fly to make it 3-1 at the 10-minute mark. That’s how it’s supposed to be done.

In the period’s final four minutes, Mason had a nice stick/pad deflection of a Rick Nash howitzer coming into the zone.

You can’t underestimate what those saves mean to a club.

“The last three years in Columbus have been a drain from a mental standpoint,” Mason said.

“There have been so many negatives there, so to come here and get a fresh start with a new organization and new teammates, it’s just a breath of fresh air. I’m really looking forward to it and savoring it.”

For Shayne Gostisbehere, Dave Hakstol, Stadium Series brings back cherished memories

For Shayne Gostisbehere, Dave Hakstol, Stadium Series brings back cherished memories

PITTSBURGH -- For Flyers coach Dave Hakstol and defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, tonight’s Stadium Series game between the Flyers and Penguins brings back memories.
 
Hakstol coached North Dakota in an outdoor hockey in college, while Gostisbehere participated in one as a freshman at Union College.
 
For Hakstol, however, this whole idea of outdoor hockey began when he was growing up in central Alberta in the small town of Drayton Valley.
 
“I think everybody’s got great memories of growing up outdoors,” Hakstol said. “We had a back creek that we could shovel off. I’m sure everybody could sit back and tell you stories of playing on the outdoor rinks.
 
“For me, most recently, I’ve got two kids growing up playing on outdoor rinks, backyard rinks. It’s pretty cool. It takes you right back to the heart of the game.”
 
Hakstol’s outdoor coaching experience came during a game between Nebraska-Omaha and his North Dakota squad in 2013 at the “Mutual of Omaha Battles on Ice.”
 
“I don’t know how to describe it,” Hakstol said of the event. “It’s just a different feel. It’s an ideal scenario.”
 
He said while tonight's game is special, it’s still about the points, first and foremost.
 
“You are cognizant of everything that surrounds the event and the game,” Hakstol said. “Yet for us, it’s two points. We’re fighting for every point here. That is going to paramount.”

Gostisbehere played at Fenway Park in 2012 for Union in a game against Harvard. That night, Union won, 2-0, to become the first ECAC club to ever win outdoors.
 
“I played at Fenway Park against Harvard and it was fun,” Gostisbehere said. “That was my freshman year and the only one I ever played in.
 
“Good crowd. It wasn’t packed obviously, but it was a night game. The ice was really good. It was really cold, too. It was pretty cool.”
 
As warm as it was Friday here -- a historic 78 degrees -- temperatures will begin in the 40s tonight at Heinz Field and then drop. It rained this morning but has since ceased.
 
“The biggest thing for me was to take a second, look around,” Gostisbehere said, admitting he failed to do that in college and won’t make that mistake again.
 
“Just cherish it a little bit. You are so focused on the game, it’s tough. That was biggest thing for me. It was such a blur. Just being in college and having the opportunity to play at Fenway Park was pretty awesome.”

This will the Flyers first-ever outdoor affair in Pittsburgh.
 
“It’s pretty exciting and I’m glad to be part of it,” Gostisbehere said.

Flyers-Penguins 5 things: Different teams meet outdoors at Heinz Field

Flyers-Penguins 5 things: Different teams meet outdoors at Heinz Field

Flyers (28-25-7) at Penguins (37-14-8)
8 p.m. on NBC, CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

It’s time for some outdoor fun.

The anticipated Flyers-Penguins Stadium Series game has arrived, as the two rivals clash Saturday night at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.

Let’s get you ready for it all with five things to know.

1. Eye on the ice
The one caveat of playing ice hockey outdoors is, of course, the weather.

The forecast is calling for rain showers from morning until noon with temperatures in the low-to-mid 50s. The precipitation is expected to taper off and temperatures are expected to dip into the high-30s for puck drop.

The ice can still be playable with some rain. Both teams are expected to have their morning skates indoors. No matter what, the game ice will certainly be a bit different than playing in a concealed arena.

“I'm sure they will do the best they can to have it ready,” Michael Del Zotto said this week (see story). “Unless it is really cold, the ice is always going to be chippy playing outdoors.

“It doesn’t matter what the ice conditions are because both teams are playing with it. It’s not an advantage or disadvantage for either team. Both have to deal with it.”

Ultimately, players are ready for anything weather-wise -- with the wind being just as big of a concern as the ice (see story).

2. Two directions
The Flyers and Penguins are in contrasting spots.

Pittsburgh is built for another Cup run.

The Flyers are not yet. Instead, they are fighting simply for their postseason lives.

The orange and black have lost seven of their last 10 games. Since the 10-game winning streak, they are 9-15-4 with the NHL’s second-fewest points at 22.

When the Flyers won 10 straight, they had a plus-14 goal differential over that span. In the 28 games since, they have scored an NHL-low 48 markers and own a minus-36 goal differential.

So, like last season, the Flyers have a mighty mountain to climb for a playoff berth (see story). They are now five points back of the Islanders, who currently hold the second wild-card spot with 68 points. The Flyers, at 63 points, also trail the Bruins (68) and Panthers (66), while the Sabres (62) and Lighting (62) are right there in the mix.

Meanwhile, the defending champion Penguins are third in the NHL with 82 points and first with 3.47 goals per game, spearheaded by Sidney Crosby’s league-best 33 scores.

3. Keep an eye on …
Flyers: Brayden Schenn is on a three-game goal streak and ranks No. 1 in hockey with 14 man-advantage tallies. Since Jan. 8, he is tied with Wayne Simmonds for the Flyers’ lead in goals at eight. He also owns eight goals and eight assists in 23 career games against Pittsburgh.

Penguins: Right winger Patric Hornqvist, who plays alongside Crosby, was super active in the first meeting with the Flyers, recording two assists, five shots on goal, three hits and three blocked shots. The 30-year-old has 17 goals, 18 assists and a plus-19 rating, while the Penguins are 12-3-0 when he scores a goal.

4. This and that
• Flyers goalie Michal Neuvirth is making his sixth straight start and ninth in the last 10 games. He is 2-2-2 with a 2.23 goals-against average, .921 save percentage and two shutouts in seven lifetime matchups with Pittsburgh.

• Penguins goalie Matt Murray is 5-1-2 in his last eight games with a .940 save percentage and 1.84 goals-against average. In two career games (one start) against the Flyers, the 22-year-old is 1-0-0 and has stopped 39 of 41 shots faced.

• Pittsburgh has won four of the last five meetings with the Flyers. This is Game 2 of the four-game regular-season series between the teams. The Penguins won the first matchup, 5-4, on Oct. 29 at the Wells Fargo Center.

• Penguins defensemen Justin Schultz (upper body) and Kris Letang (upper body) will be game-time decisions. Schultz is a team-best plus-31 on the season, while Letang is a two-time All-Star.

• Jakub Voracek has 32 points (15 goals, 17 assists) in 29 career games against Pittsburgh.

5. The rivalry
Relive some great moments from the Flyers-Penguins rivalry with these terrific pieces from CSN’s Orange Line.

Danny Briere recalls brawl in Pittsburgh

The origin of Philly’s hatred for Crosby

Reliving Flyers’ five-overtime playoff win

Mario Lemieux returns to form in first game back

Top Flyers-Penguins moments