Steve Mason set for his biggest game in 5 years

usastevemason.jpg

Steve Mason set for his biggest game in 5 years

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Assuming he gets the start in net as he’s expected to, Steve Mason will play his most important game in five years Wednesday at Madison Square Garden.

Mason hasn’t made a playoff appearance since 2008-09 as a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets, and he hasn’t so much as been in the playoff hunt since then either.

“It’s extremely exciting being a part of a playoff push,” Mason said. "It’s been a while for myself, and with the Flyers missing the playoffs last season, I think everybody was fed up with having a long summer. That’s not what hockey players enjoy. It’s the meaningful games that we’re having right now that make hockey fun.

“Right now, we’ve put ourselves in a good spot, but we can’t be taking games off like we did [Monday] night. You have to keep pushing forward.”

That’s exactly what the Mason and the Flyers will attempt to do Wednesday night. After their loss to the Los Angeles Kings Monday, and the Rangers’ overtime victory over the Phoenix Coyotes, the Flyers fell into third place into the Metropolitan Division. The Rangers lead them by a point (see story).

There’s a lot at stake tonight: The season series. Playoff positioning. A critical two points (see story).

“It’s huge,” Mason said. “Just because, you look at us losing … and the Rangers winning, they leapfrogged us. Every point is huge. If we were able to get into overtime, that one point would have been the difference between us being ahead of them.

“[Tonight] if we can pull off a victory, it’s going to be huge in the standings, just like every other game for the remainder of the season.”

The Rangers are expected to start Henrik Lundqvist in net opposite Mason, which just drives the Flyers’ goaltender to play that much harder. Mason looked very good against the Rangers at the Wells Fargo Center earlier this season.

“You realize that you just have to be that much better, because you know he’s going to bring his best stuff every single night,” Mason said.

Familiar foe
Tonight’s game marks the Flyers’ first chance to face off against Martin St. Louis as a Ranger.

It’s going to be strange for Vinny Lecavalier, St. Louis’ longtime teammate with the Tampa Bay Lightning, who said he was “shocked” at the trade deadline to learn of St. Louis’ being traded to the Rangers.

“It’ll be weird for sure,” Lecavalier said. “I watched a few games of theirs, but just to play against him -- it was weird playing against him this year when he was with Tampa, but to be in a different jersey, it’s going to be a little awkward, that’s for sure.”

Blocking shots
Like the Kings and St. Louis Blues, the Rangers are a strong shot-blocking team. That’s sure to pose an extra challenge Wednesday, just as it did in the Flyers' loss Monday.

“We need to do a better job to get it through,” Claude Giroux said. “Sometimes it doesn’t have to be hard, it has to be on net and there will be rebounds around. We’ve got a lot of good guys that can get those rebounds in front of the net. At the end of the day it’s just about making sure it hits the net.”

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.”