Nearly 3 weeks later, Mason looking to stay hot

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Nearly 3 weeks later, Mason looking to stay hot

When the Olympic break began on Feb. 9, Steve Mason was a hot goalie.

The 25-year-old Canadian had won three straight games, four of his last five, had two shutouts and came within 90 seconds of a third.

Mason was in the kind of groove every goalie wants with the stretch run to the playoffs around the bend.

That 23-game run begins Thursday for the Flyers when San Jose visits town.

“It’s great to have time off to relax and not have any stress, but at the end of the day, this is the time we look for,” said Mason, who spent some time in the Bahamas with nine childhood buddies during the break.

“We look forward to it each and every day. It’s nice to get away from the pressures the NHL season brings, refresh and get ready for this last stretch.”

Mason spent some on-ice practice time last week with goalie coach Jeff Reese trying to fine tune some aspects of his game.

“We are doing a lot of technical [things] right now,” Reese said. “Things we really haven’t had a chance to do a lot of because the schedule has been so condensed. It’s nice to get out early and do some things we have not had a chance to do.”

Interestingly, one of the things they did was analyze some video of U.S. goalie Jonathan Quick (L.A. Kings) and Finnish goalie Tuukka Rask (Boston Bruins).

What they looked at was how both goalies play the puck when it’s behind the net, where so many NHL teams now are trying to set up plays.

“Tuukka Rask and Jonathan Quick ... when pucks are behind the net and they have players in front, they tend to be on the knees, which is a safe play that can take away the lower part of the net on quick jam plays,” Mason said.

“Those are some of the best goaltenders in the league. Any time you can learn something from your peers, it is something you can take advantage of.”

Mason, who goes into the Sharks encounter with a 2.49 goals against average and .918 save percentage, said he doesn’t divide the stretch run into any specific segment of games.

Fourteen of those games, incidentally, are on home ice.

“You can make the playoffs or miss by a hair,” Mason said. “The only way to not get overrun by this is to take it day by day and game by game and not look too far ahead. It’s going to be extremely busy at the end of the season for us. We have to take it in stride.

“On a personal note, just to pick up where the game left off at the break. If everything goes according to plan, we’ll be in the playoffs.

“We’re extremely comfortable with the team we have. If we’re able to make it, we’ll make some noise and there’s a lot of work to be done in order to get there. Our fate is in our own hands.”

Most coaches will tell you that an 18-day layoff for a hot goalie is lot more destructive to their game than a forward who was on a goal-scoring spree.

“When players get back into regular season, they have their linemates who can help pick them up,” Mason said. “But when a goaltender is having an off night, it’s pretty obvious.

“Pucks are going in. For myself, make sure when Thursday night rolls around I am confident in my own game. Utilize this week to my best of my abilities.”

Reese isn’t calling it a “cram” session like final exams, but last week and this week will see a decent amount of classroom work off the ice.

“Jeff has some things he wants me to keep working on,” Mason said. “We had a full week of practice to do that. We have not been strapped for time to get that work done.

“There is a little sense of urgency to it. Come Thursday, we’re not taking baby steps, we’re ready right off the first puck drop and ready to go.”

Reese said the biggest thing for Mason and his backup, Ray Emery, was mental relaxation before the pressure of the stretch run.

“It’s not like they can’t get it back,” Reese said. “They are both well-rested. Mentally, it’s important that they got away from it a little bit.

“Both are looking forward to getting back into it. It’s going to be important for them to play well down the stretch and help get us in.”

Best of NHL: Trocheck's last-second goal lifts Panthers past Blues

Best of NHL: Trocheck's last-second goal lifts Panthers past Blues

ST. LOUIS -- Vincent Trocheck scored with just under 5 seconds remaining to lift the Florida Panthers to a 2-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Monday night.

Jonathan Marchessault also scored and James Reimer stopped 26 shots to help the Panthers complete a 5-0 road trip -- their first perfect trip of at least that many games in franchise history.

Reimer has won five straight decisions and has not lost in regulation since Jan. 7 against Boston, going 6-0-1 since.

The Panthers moved into a tie with Boston for third place in the Atlantic Division, but have the edge because they have a game in hand on the Bruins.

Kyle Brodziak, playing for the second time after missing 10 games due to a broken foot, scored for the Blues and Jake Allen finished with 31 saves. St. Louis lost its second straight since winning six in a row (see full recap).

Coyotes use three-goal 1st period to beat Ducks
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Radim Vrbata capped Arizona's three-goal first period and the Coyotes held on for 3-2 victory over the Anaheim Ducks on Monday night.

Christian Dvorak and Jakob Chychrun also scored for Arizona, and starting goalie Mike Smith had 27 saves before leaving about 4 1/2 minutes into the third period after a collision in the net. Marek Langhamer helped kill a power play after being pressed into action for his NHL debut and stopped six of the seven shots he faced.

The Coyotes have won four of their last six.

Langhamer gave up Ryan Getzlaf's second goal of the night with 26.8 seconds to play, but thwarted two quality shots in the final seconds.

Jonathan Bernier gave up three goals on six shots in the first period for the Ducks. John Gibson came on to start the second and stopped all 14 shots he faced (see full recap).

Playing with 'swagger,' Gostisbehere flashes glimpse of rookie self vs. Canucks

Playing with 'swagger,' Gostisbehere flashes glimpse of rookie self vs. Canucks

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – The Flyers’ “Ghost” headed home Monday on a high note — for a change.

Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere recorded three assists for the first three-point night of his NHL career Sunday as the Flyers edged the Vancouver Canucks 3-2 in the final game of a three-game Western Canada road trip (see story). In one night, he matched his offensive output of his previous 10 games played. 

He was a healthy scratch for three games in the meantime. On many other occasions, he has struggled while dealing with the NHL’s proverbial sophomore jinx following a standout rookie season. 

“It’s been a while coming,” Gostisbehere said. “It’s good to get some points, but I thought it was more important to get two points for our team.”

The win moved the Flyers (28-24-7) within a point of the eighth and final playoff spot, currently held by Toronto, in the Eastern Conference. With considerable thanks to Gostisbehere, the club’s much maligned power play scored on two of three man-advantage opportunities. 

“He played great,” Wayne Simmonds said of Gostisbehere. “He had his confidence and a little bit of swagger.”

Gostisbehere’s first assist enabled the Flyers to get off to a quick start offensively as Simmonds deflected in his point shot only 1:11 into the game. On the Flyers’ second goal, Gostisbehere head-manned the puck to Sean Couturier on a rush. Jakub Voracek easily put Couturier’s big rebound into a gaping net with Canucks goaltender Ryan Miller caught out of position.

One minute and 27 seconds later, Brayden Schenn took Gostisbehere’s pass and put in a shot from the slot. Altogether, Gostisbehere’s assists enabled the Flyers to build an insurmountable 3-0 lead in the game’s first 23 minutes.

“Ghost has had his ups and downs this year, but he's a heck of a player and has unbeliveable skill,” Simmonds said. “He can be a catalyst offensively for us, that’s for sure.”

Gostisbehere now has four goals and 18 assists on the season. Until Sunday, the 23-year-old had seemed like an apparition of his former self. 

He had a less-than-ideal recovery period from offseason hip (labrum) and abdominal surgeries, due to his participation with Team North America in the World Cup. Then he suffered a facial cut in the Flyers’ season opener and took a bruise on his right hand in December.

He also struggled defensively to the point where he was scratched — for the first time in his NHL career — in November and was later benched and pulled out of the lineup again. Heading into Sunday’s game, he had a woeful minus-22 mark, but he was only on the ice for one Canucks' goal.

He helped the Flyers shut out the Canucks in the first and third periods. 

“We don’t like how they came back, but we held the lead and, like I said, we got the two points,” Gostisbehere said.

Ghost’s offensive showing evoked memories of his seemingly other-worldly 2015-16 season. In 64 games last season, he notched 17 goals, the most by an NHL rookie defenseman since Dion Phaneuf, then with Calgary, who scored 20 over a full 82-game schedule in 2005-06. Gostisbehere also enjoyed a historic 15-game point streak in 2015-16, the longest ever for a first-year rearguard, and he was a runnerup for the league’s Rookie of the Year award.

His return to form Sunday bodes well as the Flyers face two Metropolitan Division rivals this week, first Washington at home on Wednesday and then the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Saturday in an outdoor game that will pack plenty of hype and pressure. 

After those games, the Flyers face a more compressed schedule than they have lately. The Feb.12-27 portion of their calendar contains only five games. But starting Feb. 28, they will play their final 21 games of the regular season over 41 days as they push to make the playoffs.

“We definitely know we’re a playoff team, for sure,” Gostisbehere said. “It shows. It’s a big test for us (this) week, playing these really good teams.”