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Mason nearly gets Flyers into second round

by Mike G. Morreale

NEW YORK -- Philadelphia Flyers goalie Steve Mason did all he could to bail out his team one last time in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference First Round series against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday.

His 31 saves weren't enough. The Rangers advanced to the second round with a 2-1 victory in the series finale.

The Rangers again got the better of the Flyers at 5-on-5, and New York’s offense onslaught in the second period that produced two goals on 18 shots proved just enough. If Mason's sterling performance in this series proved anything, it was that Flyers players, coaches and fans can say in earnest that the future is bright between the pipes in Philadelphia.

In the City of Brotherly Love, where goaltending is traditionally taken to task each offseason, that's a major accomplishment.

"At the time I took over until now, he's mentally developed into a really good goalie," Flyers coach Craig Berube said. "He's had the ability, obviously, but the change in atmosphere coming to Philadelphia and with having Jeff Reese [as goalie coach] and a guy like [backup goalie] Ray Emery, who has been around and has won, really made a difference.

"I think he's really rounded himself into being a real good No. 1 goalie in the NHL."

Mason acknowledged after the game that he did sustain a concussion April 12 in a collision with Flyers defenseman Andrew MacDonald initiated by Jayson Megna of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Mason had to sit out the opening two games of the Stanley Cup Playoffs before finally getting back in the mix in a relief stint of Emery with 7:15 remaining in the third period of a 4-1 Game 3 loss April 22.

"I still had the symptoms up to the night before I played in [Game 3]," Mason said. "I had some work done the night before Game 4 and seemed to be good to go for that game."

Making his first playoff start in five years, Mason was marvelous in Game 4 on April 25. He made 36 saves in a 2-1 victory at Wells Fargo Center that pulled the Flyers into a 2-2 series tie. The 25-year-old finished 2-2 with a 1.97 goals-against average and .939 save percentage in five postseason appearances.

That's quite a turnaround after losing four straight to the Detroit Red Wings in the opening round of the 2009 playoffs as a 20-year-old rookie with the Columbus Blue Jackets. He had a 4.27 GAA and .878 save percentage in his first playoff series.

"I'm proud of what I was able to accomplish, but when you come out on the losing end of a seven-game series, it leaves a sour taste in your mouth," Mason said. "But that's going to be enough motivation going forward into the summer and looking forward to building with this group of guys we have. There's a great core, and the Philly fan base is great. We have a lot to look forward to."

In 61 regular-season appearances in his first full season in Philadelphia, Mason went 33-18-7 with a 2.50 GAA, .917 save percentage and four shutouts.

"Mase is a great goalie," rookie forward Jason Akeson said. "Nowadays, there are some great goalies around the League, and Mase is world class. He has a lot of hockey left in him too."

With the Flyers trailing 3-2 in the series, Mason came up big in the first period of Game 6 on Tuesday, stopping all 13 shots he faced. He finished with 34 saves in a 5-2 win and was the recipient of "Mason! Mason!" chants throughout much of the third period.

Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist may have provided Mason the best compliment Wednesday.

"I knew I had to match Mason's play," Lundqvist said. "He's been playing really well. He really kept them in the game in the second period [Wednesday]. In a perfect world we would have killed the game there."

As Mason stood before reporters following Game 7, you got the feeling he was already itching to begin the 2014-15 season.

"This loss hurts, big time; nobody in this locker room is ready to pack it in, and it's tough to put into words right now because it's a long season and after one game, boom, it's over," Mason said. "I think you can definitely be proud of what this group accomplished considering what kind of start we had to the regular season. We put ourselves in a pretty big hole."

The Flyers rallied from a 3-8-0 start to the season that cost coach Peter Laviolette his job after three games. Behind Berube and Mason, Philadelphia rallied to qualify for the playoffs as the Metropolitan Division’s third-place finisher and ultimately reach Game 7 in the first round against New York.

"There's a lot of character in this locker room, and we showed that in the way we battled back to find a way to get into the playoffs and force a Game 7," Mason said. "This group was a lot of fun to play with, and I'm looking forward to growing with them in the future."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mikemorrealeNHL

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