PHILADELPHIA – There were all kinds of questions for Steve Mason as he prepared to make his first appearance in these playoffs in a must-win Game 4 for the Flyers.
There were those about his health. There were those about feeling too much pressure. There were those about him being rusty after a 12-day layoff.
There were others too, all in some way leaning toward a feeling of uncertainty about how he would play in his first playoff appearance in five years.
And while Mason dutifully answered all of those questions with aplomb, there were none that came his way asking him if he thought he could steal a game outright for his team.
Shame. It would have been interesting to hear how he would have described it before he did it.
Because that’s what he did Friday.
|The Rangers tried to get a lot of traffic around Steve Mason in Game 4, but as Matt Read said, Mason "owned his crease" in the game, finishing with 37 saves. |
Mason was superb in the Flyers 2-1 win that evened their Stanley Cup First Round series with the New York Rangers at 2-2.
He made 37 saves. He bailed out his team after a series of turnovers and giveaways. He outplayed Henrik Lundqvist. He became the first goalie in this series to steal a game.
“He played very well,” coach Craig Berube said understatedly. “He looked very good from the get go and he had to be in the first period. He did a great job.”
The first period the Rangers came out flying and Mason was under siege. He gave up the lone goal on a wrap-around by Dominic Moore, but otherwise he thwarted 15 first period shots by the Rangers.
The thing is, while the Flyers came back from an early 1-0 hole with goals by Matt Read and Jake Voracek, Mason was still facing heavy fire.
The Rangers got 12 shots on goal in the second period and 10 more in the third, and Mason had to be flawless – and was.
“He owned his crease and stood on his head,” said Read. “He put the team on his shoulders a couple times and it was a big win.”
There was no bigger save then his sprawling paddle stop on Ryan McDonagh in the second period that would have knotted the game for the Rangers.
“It was a tough play,” Mason said. “I was trying to be patient but he made a move and I bit early. The only thing I could do was reach back and try to get it with the paddle of my stick. It was a big save.”
Just one of many.
|Ryan McDonagh is just starting to wonder how his shot didn't get past Steve Mason in the second period after he made a brilliant paddle save. |
His play allowed the Flyers to win a game in which they didn’t play their best hockey. Thirteen giveaways is about 10 too many in a hockey game, and yet the Flyers were able to survive that significant total because of their goalie.
The Rangers were able to fire 72 shots toward Mason, and while the Flyers blocked 14 and the Rangers missed 20, it was still a lot of rubber being peppered at Mason – and yet he was equal.
“It’s impressive,” captain Claude Giroux said of Mason’s performance – standing just a few feet from his goalie. “He hasn’t played in a while. I know he can hear me now, so I’m not going to be too nice to him. But, he battles and some of the saves he made tonight, especially with that stick there, is pretty impressive.”
And it wasn’t just the saves. Mason left the Rangers scratching their heads a bit with his ability to play the puck as often as he did, meaning New York can’t just dump the puck in and chase it down to set up their offense.
And don’t think they didn’t take note of it.
“I thought we got a good amount of shots toward him,” said Rangers winger Martin St. Louis. “We’d like to probably generate a little more grade-A’s I guess. [But] we’ve got to keep it away from him, too. When we dump the puck he plays the puck pretty well. It plays into his hand a little bit.”
And if things keep playing into Mason’s hand and if Mason’s play continues to be impressive, the Flyers might be able to ride this momentum to a series win over a difficult opponent.
“I’ve been practicing a lot just with goaltender-specific things and I think that really carried through to the game,” Mason said. “We had a lot of stuff behind the net and a lot of back door plays and that’s stuff that [goaltending coach Jeff Reese] and I have been working on with my post work – making sure you’re closing up tight when they are behind the net. That work paid off tonight.”
And the Flyers are hoping it will pay off at least two more times in the next five days.
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @InsideTheFlyers