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.”

Flyers-Penguins 5 things: Final long road trip of season ends in Pittsburgh

Flyers-Penguins 5 things: Final long road trip of season ends in Pittsburgh

Flyers (34-32-8) at Penguins (46-17-11)
7 p.m. on NBCSN/CSNPhilly.com and NBC Sports App

The Flyers conclude their final four-game road trip of the season on Sunday night in Pittsburgh against a Penguins team with its playoff ticket already punched.

Let's take a closer look game at No. 75 for the Flyers.

1. Power outage
The theme remained the same for the Flyers in their 1-0 loss to Columbus on Saturday: a lifeless power play leads to little offense in a must-win game that killed any realistic, however slim, hope of making a last-second run at the Eastern Conference's second wild-card spot.

After going 0 for 3 against the Blue Jackets, the Flyers' power play is now 3 for 43 in March, 0 for its last 14 and 2 for its last 25. On Sunday night, they face a Penguins penalty kill that is lingering near the bottom 10 of the league at 19th overall with an 80.3 percent kill rate.

"We're getting our chances and it's not going in," Shayne Gostisbehere said Saturday. "It's not like we're not getting shots, so it's a matter of sticking with it and it'll come."

In their 4-0 shutout win over the Penguins on March 15, the Flyers were 1 for 4 on the man advantage and it was the last game the team found twine on the power play.

2. Mr. 100
After winning his 100th game as a Flyer on Thursday night Minnesota -- only the third goalie in franchise history to reach 100 wins -- Steve Mason had Saturday afternoon off.

Without context, rolling with Michal Neuvirth on Saturday was a surprising move considering Mason has been the better goalie of the two and the team believed its season was not yet over. But it was the first game of a back-to-back against two of the East's elites.

Neuvirth appeared rusty in the opening period but settled down in Columbus, but Mason is expected back in between the pipes Sunday against the Pens, whom he shut out 11 days ago.

With 53 games this season, Mason is the first goaltender in Flyers history to start over 50 games in four consecutive seasons. On Sunday, he's expected to make his 50th start.

Mason is 2-3-1 with a 2.62 goals-against average and .910 save percentage in March and owns a 2.73 goals-against average and .906 save percentage overall this season.

3. Playoffs … playoffs?
With Saturday's 1-0 loss, the Flyers' playoff hopes are realistically dead -- not as if they weren't already. The Flyers have eight games left and are eight points out of the playoffs.

One has to believe the Flyers have to win out and acquire all 16 possible points to have any legitimate chance at the playoffs. That's not taking into account help needed elsewhere.

Let's do some math. If the Flyers were to earn all 16 points on the table, they'd finish the year with 92 points. Is that enough to get into the playoffs? Not unless the four teams ahead of them crash and burn. The Flyers are not officially eliminated, but the playoffs are a pipe dream.

4. Keep an eye on …
Flyers: Let's go with Sean Couturier, who has three goals and seven assists in his last 11 games. He had a goal and an assist with a career-high eight shots vs. the Pens 11 days ago.

Penguins: Nick Bonino has seven goals in his last 10 games and nine points in his last 12 games. Bonino has one goal in three games against the Flyers this season.

5. This and that
• The Penguins will wear their gold Stadium Series jerseys against the Flyers on Sunday.

• The Flyers have scored just 20 goals in their last 17 losses.

• This game was originally set for 12:30 p.m. but was rescheduled earlier in the season.

• Pittsburgh is 3-0-2 in five contests since losing to the Flyers on March 15. The Pens are 8-1-3 in their last 12 games and are coming off back-to-back shootout losses.

Best of NHL: Bruins snap 4-game skid, beat Islanders, move into playoff position

Best of NHL: Bruins snap 4-game skid, beat Islanders, move into playoff position

NEW YORK -- Riley Nash scored twice and backup goalie Anton Khudobin made 18 saves as the Boston Bruins beat the New York Islanders 2-1 Saturday night, snapping a four-game losing streak.

Nash broke a 1-1 tie with his second goal of the contest at 4:12 of the third period, beating Islanders goalie Thomas Greiss from the slot for his seventh goal of the season. Dominic Moore assisted on the decisive goal, which lifted Boston two points ahead of the Islanders for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference.

John Tavares scored for New York and Greiss finished with 16 saves.

Tavares had a golden chance to knot the score with just over six minutes left in the third period but rang the puck off the crossbar with the Islanders on their sixth power play of the game (see full recap).

Eichel, Sabres slow Leafs' push to clinch playoff berth
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Jack Eichel scored twice and set up another goal in the Buffalo Sabres' 5-2 win that slowed the youth-laden Toronto Maple Leafs' late-season surge to clinch a playoff berth.

Ryan O'Reilly and Dmitry Kulikov each had a goal and assist, and Evander Kane also scored in a game the Sabres took control of by scoring three straight times in the second period. Robin Lehner stopped 32 shots, and the Sabres continued their home dominance over their cross-border rivals by improving to 18-2-1 against Toronto in their last 21 games at Buffalo.

The Maple Leafs' hold on third-place in the Atlantic Division dwindled in having a three-game winning streak end and losing in regulation for just the second time in their past 10 (7-2-1). With 85 points, Toronto has a one-point edge over Boston after the Bruins beat the New York Islanders.

Auston Matthews scored his 34th to tie Toronto's single-season rookie record set by Wendel Clark in 1985-86. Connor Brown also scored for Toronto (see full recap).

Marchessault's hat trick helps Panthers blow out Blackhawks
SUNRISE, Fla. -- Jonathan Marchessault scored his first career hat trick, James Reimer stopped 25 shots for his first shutout of the season and the Florida Panthers routed the Chicago Blackhawks 7-0 on Saturday night.

Jonathan Huberdeau had a goal and three assists, and Aleksander Barkov added a goal and two assists for Florida. Reilly Smith and Nick Bjugstad also scored to give the Panthers their largest margin of victory since an 8-0 win over Toronto on Feb. 5, 2008.

Marchessault had two goals in a 3-1 win over Arizona on Thursday. He has nine goals over his last nine games and leads the Panthers with 28.

Corey Crawford stopped 21 shots for the Blackhawks before being lifted at 4:59 of the third for Scott Darling, who allowed three goals on six shots.

Already leading 3-0, the Panthers poured in four goals in the third (see full recap).

Caps top Coyotes as Ovechkin reaches 30 goals for 12th straight season
WASHINGTON -- Alex Ovechkin recorded his 30th goal of the season and Daniel Winnik scored two goals, including the game-winner late in the third period, as the Washington Capitals overcame listless stretches to beat the lowly Arizona Coyotes 4-1 on Saturday night.

Ovechkin became the third player in league history to score 30-plus goals in each of his first 12 seasons, joining Mike Gartner (15) and Wayne Gretzky (13).

Winnik scored with 4:39 remaining, Justin Williams added another goal not long and Winnik sealed the Capitals' fourth consecutive victory with an empty-netter.

Braden Holtby made 28 saves for Washington, which has won five of six to reach an NHL-leading 106 points and keep pace atop the competitive Metropolitan Division. The Capitals are three points up on the Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins.

Mike Smith stopped 29 of the 32 shots he faced and Peter Holland scored the lone goal for Arizona (see full recap).