Mason plays strong in Flyers' win over Rangers


Mason plays strong in Flyers' win over Rangers


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.”

Flyers Notes: Travis Konecny sparks power play with 1st NHL goal

Flyers Notes: Travis Konecny sparks power play with 1st NHL goal

The kid finally has his first NHL goal.

Travis Konecny scored at 4:30 of the third period (see video) during the Flyers' 4-3 shootout win over Buffalo on Tuesday night (see story).  

His was the first of three power-play goals to erase a 3-0 deficit and get the Flyers into overtime.

First markers are always that much more special when they make a difference in a comeback victory, such as this one with the Flyers in a brutal stretch of six games in nine days.

“I am just excited that it happened,” Konecny said. “But the thing for me that was more exciting was coming back after that 3-0 [deficit] and an overall exciting night for us.”

The three power-play goals were a season high for the Flyers.

“We got going those two power plays ... our power plays set a tone,” Konecny said. “When that gets going, it makes it hard for the other team to stop us.

“It’s awesome because we know what they can do [on the top power-play unit]. They have been sticking with it and fighting the puck, whatever it’s been the past couple of games, but you know what they are capable of — you can see it the past couple of years. 

“You knew it was coming and tonight is the perfect night to get it going and I am sure that they are going to keep rolling with it.”

Schultz sits
The decision to sit 15-year veteran blueliner Nick Schultz to get Radko Gudas back into the lineup wasn’t easy but it made sense on several levels. Gudas had been suspended for six games.

First, Schultz doesn’t play on the power play, whereas Andrew MacDonald carries heavy minutes with the power play and penalty kill.

Brandon Manning? Not happening. He’s been the Flyers' best defenseman this season. Mark Streit? Doesn’t work because he quarterbacks the second-unit PP and is essentially teaching that duty to rookie Ivan Provorov.

“It’s real tough,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. “It’s part of the business and [Schultz has] done an excellent job. He’s always very well-prepared.

“We talked about what’s best for our team and we feel like Gudy going in, especially on a back-to-back, gives us fresh legs and a fresh body coming back into the lineup.”

Hakstol recently has had to switch around his defensive pairs to get more defensive coverage and consistency on the ice. For instance, moving Provorov from Streit to Manning.

He discounted Schultz’s age (34) as a true factor in the decision.

“I think the more flexibility you have, the better, whether it be for rest or for the injury situations,” Hakstol said. “First and foremost, I think we’re still looking for the true consistency that we need through our entire team, but certainly your D pairs are a big part of that. 

“Before we start getting to a comfort level of guys playing with different people, first we have to find true consistency. We’ve been pretty good, but we’ve had stretches where the consistency needs to improve, as well.”

Best of NHL: Penguins beat Panthers in Sidney Crosby's debut

Best of NHL: Penguins beat Panthers in Sidney Crosby's debut

PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby scored in his season debut as the Pittsburgh Penguins rallied to beat the Florida Panthers 3-2 on Tuesday night.

Crosby, who scored on a power play, missed the team's first six games with a concussion. Carl Hagelin and Eric Fehr also scored for the Penguins, who extended a seven-game unbeaten streak against the Panthers.

Marc-Andre Fleury, who has started the first seven games of the season for Pittsburgh, stopped 20 shots. Matt Murray, who backstopped the Penguins to a Stanley Cup in June, served as the backup to Fleury after missing the first six games with a broken hand.

Reilly Smith scored a power-play goal and Mark Pysyk also scored for the Panthers, who have lost 11 of 12 against the Penguins in Pittsburgh.

James Reimer made 19 saves in his second start of the season (see full recap).

Kings top Blue Jackets in overtime
LOS ANGELES -- Alec Martinez scored 1:14 into overtime, and the Los Angeles Kings rallied to beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-2 Tuesday night for their third straight victory.

Drew Doughty scored the tying goal with 5:57 left in regulation for the Kings, who won their third straight overtime game after an 0-3-0 start to the season. Captain Anze Kopitar also scored, and third-string goalie Peter Budaj stopped 19 shots in his third consecutive win.

Cam Atkinson scored a tiebreaking power-play goal late in the second period, and Sergei Bobrovsky made 27 saves for Columbus. Brandon Saad also scored for the Jackets, who had won two straight after an 0-2-0 start.

Martinez ended it by putting a rebound into an open net for the defenseman's second goal of the season (see full recap).

Lightning strike for seven goals in win
TORONTO -- Steven Stamkos matched a career-high with four points -- two goals and two assists -- and the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 7-3 on Tuesday night.

Frederik Andersen gave up seven goals on only 24 shots, the third time in five starts he has allowed at least five goals and fourth time he's allowed four or more. The 27-year-old has an .851 save percentage so far this season.

Alex Killorn, Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov, Vladislav Namestnikov and Jonathan Drouin added goals for Tampa Bay, while Ben Bishop made 40 saves.

William Nylander, James van Riemsdyk and Auston Matthews scored for the Maple Leafs, who outshot the Lightning 43-24 (see full recap).