Inside the Flyers: Mason covered up shortcomings in Game 4 win

Posted: April 28, 2014

Give the Flyers credit for gutting out a tense, 2-1 win over the speedier New York Rangers on Friday.

Goalie Steve Mason, rust-free despite getting his first start in 13 days, was better than anyone could have expected after the long layoff, and the special teams were superb, enabling the Flyers to even the intriguing series at two games apiece.

Now, as the series switches from Broad Street to Broadway on Sunday afternoon, the Flyers shouldn't get caught up in the euphoria of their Game 4 win.

Fact is, they need to play much better than they did Friday if they are going to win what has turned into a three-game tug-of-war.

"I believe we haven't played our best game yet," Flyers coach Craig Berube said. "I really believe that."

If the Flyers are going to win this series, they figure to do so because of Mason; their strong special-teams play; and their patient, grinding style.

But that doesn't mean there isn't reason for concern.

The concern is this: The Flyers are spending too little time in the Rangers' zone, they are being badly outshot, and the Blueshirts are skating circles around them. In the series, the Flyers are averaging just 1.75 goals per game, excluding an empty-netter.

"We have to play better," Berube said, adding he wants the Flyers to play like they did in the second half of their 4-2 win in New York in Game 2. "We have to continue to play like that. I thought that in Game 2 we did a good job getting pucks in, getting on the forecheck. Just establishing some zone time in the offensive zone."

The pressure to win in New York on Sunday will be intense, but the fact the Flyers ended their nine-game losing streak in Madison Square Garden has improved their mind-set.

"We know we can win a game up there now, and that's huge," Berube said.

He studied tape after Friday's win, looking for ways the Flyers can get more attack time and get Claude Giroux more open space. Giroux has done a lot of good things in the series, but he is still looking for his first goal because the Rangers are double-teaming him and hitting him at every opportunity.

Hey, it's normal treatment reserved for stars. It's why Sidney Crosby, who will win the MVP award in a landslide, entered Saturday goalless in the first four games of the Penguins' series against Columbus, running his playoff streak to nine straight games without a goal.

Giroux aside, the good news from the Flyers' perspective is that Mason looks refreshed. Maybe the long layoff will serve as a blessing in disguise.

It was only one game, but Mason was so good, so dominating Friday, that you wonder if this series would be totally different if he had been healthy from the outset.

It's also fair to wonder if the Flyers would have a three-games-to-one lead if Mason had started Game 3. That was the game, you'll recall, that Mason was healthy enough to be the backup, but Berube went with Ray Emery because he was coming off consecutive solid efforts in New York, including the Flyers' first win in Madison Square Garden in the last 10 tries.

Emery had a clunker in Game 3; he allowed a soft goal early, and the Flyers never recovered as they lost, 4-1.

Give Berube the benefit of the doubt. It's easy in hindsight to say Mason should have played in Game 3, based on what he did in Game 4 - stopping 37 of 38 shots and stealing the victory - but there were doubts about his health earlier in the week, and the coach was rewarding Emery for his strong play.

That's in the past. Now it's clear Mason is 100 percent. He is well-rested, and, for the first time in a while, there is reason to be optimistic about the Flyers' goalie situation in the playoffs.

Repeat: There is reason to be optimistic about the Flyers' goalie situation in the playoffs.

Now if they can just get their offense untracked.


scarchidi@phillynews.com

@BroadStBull

www.inquirer.com/

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