With some wondering if the Flyers had waited one game too many to insert starter Steve Mason into their Eastern Conference quarterfinals series with the Rangers, the 25-year old making his first postseason start since the 2008-2009 season certainly did all he could to keep the doubters guessing. Mason turned aside 37 New York shots, many in spectacular fashion, and did just enough to send the series back to Madison Square Garden with the teams knotted up at two apiece.
Things could not have started any worse for the desperate Flyers. After blowing an early power play opportunity, Domonic Moore sprung from the penalty box with a head of steam. Moore collected the puck behind the net and beat Mason to his far post with a wraparound goal that put the Rangers up 1-0 just under five minutes into the game. For as spectacular as he was for the remaining 50+ minutes, Mason looked all the rusty one might have imagined for a player who had missed the last game of the regular season in addition to the first three of the series against the Rangers. Fortunately, the resilient netminder collected himself and rounded into form quickly.
As for the Flyers, they provided some rare offense against the stout Rangers back-end with a new approach. After having 28 shots blocked in game three, Philadelphia decided to use some misdirection to counteract the stationary Ranger defense. Just inside the blue line, Jason Akeson intentionally fired a shot wide, anticipating a friendly bounce off the boards behind Henrik Lundqvist’s cage. Sure enough, the puck bounced right onto the stick of Matt Read who fired it past a lunging Lunqvist. The energy returned to the Wells Fargo Center, albeit briefly, with the score knotted at one.
For a team facing the potential of a 3-1 series going back to a building they struggle in, the Flyers looked rather tentative as New York seized early control of the contest. With a wavering Wells Fargo Center crowd, Mason stopped 15 1st period shots by the visiting Rangers to keep the game squared away at one and give his teammates something to hitch their wagon to heading into the 2nd period.
After killing off one of four New York power plays early in the 2nd, the Flyers got another crack at the man-advantage to try and take their first home lead of the series. After showing great patience with a man up, Brayden Schenn fired the puck toward the front of the net. Waiting was Jake Voracek who, with deft expertise, re-directed it by Lundqvist for a huge statement goal on the power play. Philadelphia had finally seized the lead it sought out for in their first try hosting the Rangers. Now all they had to do was protect it. From a fan’s point of view, it did not appear to be an easy task.
The Rangers would total 22 shots in the last 40 minutes of the game, throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the Flyer defense. Nicklas Grossmann went down when the game was still tied at one, giving the Flyers just five defenseman trying to face the New York onslaught. Though the Flyers were not necessarily in ‘prevent’ mode, many of their offensive attempts would end in quick fashion, and sometimes lead to another Ranger opportunity. Yet, as the shots continued to pile up and the intensity build in the Wells Fargo Center, the stronger the Flyers netminder appeared.
With the net pulled for the final minute of the 3rd period. New York would occupy the Flyer zone for nearly the entire remaining stretch of regulation. With players sacrificing their body to try to burn precious seconds off the clock, the fever pitch in the stadium reached staggering levels. When the final shot New York shot deflected out of the zone, sealing the 2-1 win, the collective exhale of the Philadelphia faithful quickly shifted to cheers of admiration for the performance of their goaltender.
Make no mistake, the Flyers turned in the type of effort necessary to beat a very strong New York team. At the end of the day, though, the Flyers would need whomever their goaltender of the night was to steal them a game if they had any hopes of winning the series. Friday night, in front of a nervous Wells Fargo crowd, Philadelphia got just that from a player who, before the night began, had never played with a lead in his Stanley Cup Finals career. Now, we’ll see how he handles the Blue Shirt faithful, as the teams had back to MSG knotted at two apiece with a pivotal game five set for Sunday afternoon.