Goalie Steve Mason was other-worldly as he singlehandedly kept the Flyers in Game 7
By Michael McCarthy
The Flyers in seven games to the Rangers, which is true.
But they were so gritty all series long that even defeat has its bright spots.
The brightest is goalie Steve Mason
The Flyers started worse than every other Flyers team at 1-7, it won after losing Games 1, 3 and 5 in these playoffs, and then it almost pulled a Houdini in a Game 7 for the ages that the Rangers won 2-1 to move on.
Mason was the biggest hero in this seven-game war that has the Rangers again right there as the Flyers’ No. 1 rival along with the Penguins, who were sitting there awaiting the sole survival.
And he did it recovering from – you guessed it – a concussion.
Injured in the next-to-last regular-season game, Mason confessed after playing the game of his life to give the Flyers a fighting chance in an elimination game in which their 12 forwards and six defensemen were outplayed a lot of the time.
Yep, that’s why backup Ray Emery started the first three games of this series, losing two.
And just in case you’re not convinced Mason is an ultimate gamer after catching his ridiculous 31-save Game 7 performance, know this:
The night after he relieved Emery in Game 3 and the night before his Game 4 start, Mason again was experiencing concussion symptoms.
“I had some work done the morning of Game 4 and I seemed to be good to go for that night,” Mason said.
Cleared to play, Mason went out that night and stole a game the Flyers had no business winning. He was just as good in Game 6 on Tuesday night when the Flyers tied the series again 3-3, although Wayne Simmonds got most of the headlines in this 5-2 do-or-die win for his first postseason hat trick.
As Flyers radio play-by-play man Tim Saunders called out on air, you really did “have to be here to believe it.”
His second period was worth bottling.
The Flyers escaped the first 20 minutes still tied 0-0 because of Mason, then they fell apart being outshot 18-5 in the second. The Rangers scored twice in the period on goals by Daniel Carcillo and Benoit Pouliot that Mason had no shot on. He didn’t seem to have a shot at a bunch of others, too, but stopped them all.
It’s too bad fans weren’t given numbered cards to judge the goaltending like they do in NBA Slam Dunk contests. It would have been 10 after 10 after 10 for Mason, who outplayed Henrik Lundqvist.
If this was the Stanley Cup Final, Mason might have won the Conn Smythe for playoff MVP like Ron Hextall did as a 22-year-old Flyers rookie netminder in 1987 when Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers won a Game 7 to wrap up the third of their four Cups over six seasons.
And remember, this was a Game 7 at the Garden. That’s pressure. He didn’t feel it. And he wasn’t bothered by rowdy Rangers fans yelling their lungs out.
“You know what?” Mason said. “We get spoiled back in Philly with our crowd, so playing here … They have a nice crowd, too, but it’s nothing like playing back at home. So you really don’t notice it.”
They noticed him.
Their cheers were muffled into ahhhhs time and again after his great save after great save.
The Flyers didn’t just finally find themselves a keeper to play that position so many others in Philadelphia have failed.
Apologizes to likely Hart Trophy finalist Claude Giroux, but Mason was the Flyers’ best player from start to finish in a season in which they rebounded after missing the playoffs last season. Along the way, he proved his early career success was no fluke.
The guy who was Rookie of the Year as a 20-year-old playing for Columbus and then had his career nearly kill over now gives Flyers fans real hope going forward.
He was THAT good against the Rangers.
Check out his incredible postseason stats: 1.97 goals-against-average and .939 save percentage. With those numbers, he deserved to be 4-0 instead of 2-2, and he wouldn’t have if the Flyers’ seven 20-goal scorers had pulled their weight.
His regular season was pretty darned good, too – 33-18-7 record, 2.50 GAA, .917 save percentage.
“Overall, I’m proud at what was able to be accomplished, but when you come out on the losing end of a seven-game series, that leaves a sour taste in your mouth,” Mason said. “But that’s going to be enough motivation going forward into the summer time. I’m just really looking forward to building with this group of guys. We have such a great core that I think the Philly fan base has something to look forward to.”
Still a young man at 25, Mason is as much a building block as anyone, Giroux included.