Steve Mason stopped 37 of 38 shots to earn his first career postseason victory against the Rangers Friday night. Credit: Getty Images
As has been the custom for over 40 years for most big games, in Kate they trusted.
Sure enough, the old lady, sharing the “God Bless America’’ stage with her modern day counterpart, Lauren Hart, daughter of the Flyers famed announcer through the magic of modern technology, did her part just fine.
Make no mistake, the reason the Flyers and Rangers are tied at two games apiece heading back to Broadway for a Sunday matinee at the Garden, has nothing to do with good luck charm voices or those orange towels the fans were waving throughout the building.
If not for Steve Mason, who made a triumphant return to the Flyers goal with 37 saves after missing two weeks with a mysterious “upper body injury,’’ chances are the Rangers would be going for the kill tomorrow. Instead, it’s down to a best of three, after Mason shook off an early goal, then stoned Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis, Rick Nash & Co. the rest of the night, while the Flyers got timely goals from Matt Read and Jake Voracek to escape with a 2-1 win.
"It’s impressive," said Flyers captain Claude Giroux, again kept off the scoresheet -- though he was credited with two shots on goals. "He hasn’t played in a while, but he battles. Some of the saves he made tonight, especially with that stick there, were pretty impressive. Now that we have some momentum we’ve got to make sure we put it in our pocket and keep it When we keep playing our game and we don’t try to do too much, I think that’s when we play our best. Tonight was an example."
Well, perhaps to an extent. But the Flyers did commit an alarming number of turnovers in their own zone, leading to a number of excellent scoring chances for the visitors. But after Dominic Moore came out of the penalty box, was stopped on his initial shot, but grabbed the rebound and scored on a wraparound just 4:38 in, Mason had the answer each time.
"I didn’t put any extra pressure on myself,’’ said Mason, who earned his first career playoff victory, while Ray Emery stayed on the sidelines. "It’s playoff time and it’s fun to be a part of this. I think if you treat it as a fun situation, you’re going to give yourself a better opportunity to have success. You don’t want to go into MSG down 3-1 in a series and have to win in that building. So for us it was definitely a must win and the guys responded pretty well."
After Mason kept them within a goal, Read got the equalizer when he slammed rookie Jason Akeson’s perfect carom pass off the boards past Henrik Lundqvist at 8:55. The Rangers kept peppering away at Mason, outshooting the Flyers 16-6 in the first period, but had nothing more to show for it.
At the other end the Flyers continued to struggle mounting an attack, seeming content to wait for wait for a breakdown. It finally came early in the second period after Moore was sent to the box, as Brayden Schenn avoided getting his shot blocked, firing one Voracek was able to redirect top shelf past Lundqvist to make it 2-1.
More than half the game remained and most of it was spent in the Flyers end, while the Rangers tried desperately to tie it. They never could despite all the giveaways and New York’s relentless forechecking which kept the crowd on edge until one final Ranger shot was blocked out into the neutral zone as time expired.
Now can the Flyers ride Mason and that momentum to take the series lead at Garden, where they no longer have that long losing streak hanging over them?.
"Yeah, obviously it’s huge," said Voracek, who changed places on the power play with Giroux, trying to free the captain from the Rangers’ dogged penalty killers. "We haven’t won there before in a while. If we’re going to play the same way we did in game two and be patient for 60 minutes, I’m sure we can win again."
Especially if Steve Mason can perform at the same kind of level.
"He was our best player today and it was exactly what we needed," said Voracek, as the Flyers won despite being outshot 38—25. "We were patient today and Mase was solid. Now we have to go to their building and try to keep it simple"
Then it’s back home for Game 6, a chance to either clinch the series or force it to a decisive seventh game back at the Garden Wednesday night.
If Steve Mason keeps playing like this, though, the Flyers won’t need any good luck charms.