If you’re looking for a bright star behind a darkened April sky, you just might find it behind the No. 35.
That’s where Flyers goalie Steve Mason resides.
The 24-year-old made his first home start at the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday and got the better of King Henrik Lundqvist.
The Rangers made a tenacious third-period “push” and Mason was the guy pushing back with 16 saves that period and 38 overall as the Flyers won, 4-2, to tighten the Eastern Conference playoff standings just a bit.
They are now five points out of a playoff spot with five games to play. Who knows?
This much is certain: Without Mason in the third period, the Flyers lose this game.
“It was his best period,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “They came hard. There was lots of plays from the slot, plays in tight, through screens and he was able to pick up a lot.
“Some of the shots from the outside, he was able to push them to the side and not kick out any in front. Really strong effort.”
Mason was making his third start in four appearances since being picked up at the trade deadline by the Flyers. He was able to give the Flyers their first win this season in which Ilya Bryzgalov wasn't in net.
Derek Stepan drew the Rangers to within 3-2 at 7:28 of the final period, just seconds after Mason had made several outstanding saves during a Ranger power play.
And then … with less than eight minutes to play, Mason went down and began flexing his right leg. Trainer Jim McCrossin came out as did Bryzgalov, who began warming up on the ice.
It was hard to tell if he was injured or cramping up but Mason stayed in the game.
“Just some major cramping,” Mason said to the relief of everyone. “Whether that was a mixture of nerves playing at home and wanting to play well, I’m not sure.”
They would have had to carry him out of the net on a stretcher, no?
“Yeah, it was an important game for myself and the team,” he replied. “As a hockey player, you want to be part of it. It was a must-win. A playoff race with them being the eighth playoff spot right now. It was a good performance to win.”
If the Eastern Conference standings were closer, it would be easy to get excited here but New York has such an easy schedule to end it -- Florida twice and struggling New Jersey
twice -- it’s impossible seeing the Rangers not making the playoffs.
Mason, however, gave the Flyers a chance at Buffalo in losing 1-0 and he did it again against the Rangers. He has a 1.82 goals-against average and .941 save percentage in four games.
“Well, you know I was saying before that I saw it before,” said Jakub Voracek, who scored his 19th goal on an empty-netter.
“He was rock solid for us tonight. Every game he played he gave us a chance to win, which is huge. We finally got some goals for him and we won.”
Voracek knows. He played with Mason in Columbus.
“You know, he was exactly the same as he was in the first year when he won the Rookie of the Year,” Voracek said of Mason’s Calder Trophy in 2008-09.
“And, you know, he was all over the place. He made a huge stop for us and he was a big key for us, too, and winning two more points today.”
The Rangers had won 11 of the last 12 games played between the two, dating back to March of 2011.
So what’s the secret of beating Lundqvist?
“We know he plays pretty deep in his net,” Brayden Schenn said. “The backdoor passes, he seems to get over there pretty quick. You just have to shoot the puck and create traffic, get rebounds and that's probably the best way to do it.”
Schenn’s eighth goal at 9:28 of the first period was a bit of a broken play, but the Flyers, whose goal scoring has been up and down this season, will take it.
Danny Briere brought it into the zone along the right boards and gave way to rookie defenseman Brandon Manning, a call-up for the concussed Kent Huskins.
Manning’s shot was blocked by Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto, but the rebound went nicely over to Schenn in the left slot and he ripped it past Lundqvist for a 1-0 lead.
“Manning got it on net,” Schenn said. “It was a fortunate bounce back to me and I will definitely take it.”
Erik Gustafsson’s play has picked up in recent weeks and it may have something to do with having to log more ice time because of mounting injuries on the blue line. That extra ice time is paying off.
Late in the period, Gustafsson took a saucer pass from Sean Couturier and put a shot with some Swedish on it. The puck muscled through Lundqvist’s pad for a 2-0 lead at 17:21.
“I saw a breakout on our end. I think Reader (Matt Read) have it to Coots (Couturier),” Gustafsson said. “Coots did a great job of carrying it down the wing. I saw an opportunity to join rush. It was a great pass from across. I just shot the puck and I was so happy to see it go in.”
Mason had nine saves in the first period, including two good ones on Dan Girardi and Ryan Callahan during a Ranger power play that stanza.
The Rangers cut their deficit in half early in the second period when Mats Zuccarello, using the rather tall Oliver Lauridsen as a screen, put one through Mason’s legs at 2:34.
When the Flyers' power play is on its mark, the entire complexion of a game changes. It’s no coincidence that during their recent four-game losing skid, the Flyers were 0 for 16 with the man advantage.
They scored seven goals Monday in Montreal and the power play gave them two. In this one, the Flyers squandered an opportunity right after Zuccarello’s goal by trying to be too perfect with passes and giving up on shots.
Seconds after that power play ended, however, the Flyers got another one. This time, they didn’t get fancy. Claude Giroux won a faceoff from the still-struggling Brad Richards and the puck slid up the high slot toward the point.
Kimmo Timonen, sensing a possible screen, skated in and unleashed off the fly to make it 3-1 at the 10-minute mark. That’s how it’s supposed to be done.
In the period’s final four minutes, Mason had a nice stick/pad deflection of a Rick Nash howitzer coming into the zone.
You can’t underestimate what those saves mean to a club.
“The last three years in Columbus have been a drain from a mental standpoint,” Mason said.
“There have been so many negatives there, so to come here and get a fresh start with a new organization and new teammates, it’s just a breath of fresh air. I’m really looking forward to it and savoring it.”