Berube and Mason not enough for Flyers

Flyers goalie Steve Mason sits next to the puck after the Rangers' Daniel Carcillo scored. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
Flyers goalie Steve Mason sits next to the puck after the Rangers' Daniel Carcillo scored. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 02, 2014

NEW YORK - The coach and the goaltender had done all they could do.

Craig Berube had been shuffling and scheming since the eve of the Flyers' first-round series against the Rangers, changing strategies, changing lines, changing defensive pairings, changing goalies, searching for a matchup, a combination of players, something to overcome the intrinsic disadvantages that his team faced.

The Rangers were faster, more skilled, and better along the blue line, and here was Berube, in his first postseason as an NHL head coach, and after coaxing the Flyers out of an awful start and into the playoffs, after making all those moves, all he could do as the seconds bled away on the Rangers' 2-1 victory in Game 7 here Wednesday was chomp on a piece of blue gum, his face a stoic shield.

To his left along the visitors' bench at Madison Square Garden was Steve Mason, who had been pulled for an extra skater with 1 minute, 34 seconds left in regulation, who had been the only thing standing between the Flyers and a faster playoff exit. He had made 31 saves Wednesday night, somehow had been more spectacular in defeat than he had been in either of his two victories over the Rangers, and all he could do was watch as the Flyers, down and desperate, pressed Henrik Lundqvist for a tying goal that never came.

Berube and Mason. Step back for a moment from the wild ride of this Flyers season - the firing of Peter Laviolette, the promotion of Berube, the improvement into a playoff team, the effort they had to exert to stretch this series to seven games.

Give it all some distance and perspective, and it's easy to see that those two are the most valuable discoveries the franchise made. Berube and Mason. In the former, they have a promising head coach with less than a full season on the job, with room to grow. In the latter, they have the commodity they've lacked for so long: a bona fide No. 1 goaltender, the kind who can handle a 60-game workload during the regular season and steal a postseason round or two. Hell, he darn near did it against the Rangers.

That distance and perspective is of vital importance now, because we know what the Flyers' history is. If that history is any guide, the foremost fear of this offseason has to be that team chairman Ed Snider and the organization's player-personnel people will fall into the same pattern that has contributed to what will be a 40-year drought since the Flyers' last Stanley Cup.

General manager Paul Holmgren was smart to be relatively patient during this season, to avoid blowing up the roster back in the fall, when the playoffs seemed a pipe dream, and seeing what he had.

Now he should know: This Flyers team wasn't much different from many Flyers teams before it. It played hard. The players' collective character cannot be questioned. But there are areas with glaring shortages in talent and skill, particularly among the defensemen, that will be difficult to improve with another summertime spree of trading and spending.

For all the lip service they pay to looking ahead, the Flyers have always been willing to sacrifice the future for the here and now, always fallen back on Snider's demand that the organization make a pell-mell chase for a championship every season.

That's the pattern. That's the problem. And the Flyers have to resist the urge to do so again, at least when it comes to the prospects they have on defense, players such as Shayne Gostisbehere and last year's first-round draft pick, Samuel Morin. The truth is, they're going to need some young, inexpensive talent, next season and beyond, because they've committed so much salary-cap space to players of questionable value.

Scott Hartnell accounts for $23.75 million of cap space over the next five seasons. Vinny Lecavalier: $18 million over the next four. Andrew MacDonald, a game if unspectacular defenseman: $30 million over the next six.

For their contributions over the season, these players and others were not difference-makers against the Rangers. So little came easy to the Flyers in this series, and twice more in Game 7, their opponents showed the value in building a team that can win - that can dominate a decisive period in an elimination game - without having to rely on jagged-edge play to do it.

Mats Zuccarello, all of 5-foot-7, threaded that gorgeous pass to Dan Carcillo for the Rangers' first goal, Pete-Maraviching the puck through the legs of both MacDonald and Braydon Coburn. More than eight minutes later, Derick Brassard delivered a similar pass to linemate Benoit Pouloit, and on neither sequence did Mason have a chance.

Those two goals stood up, despite the Flyers' third-period push. So there they were together at the end, watching the Rangers celebrate: Craig Berube and Steve Mason, the best things to come out of just another hard Flyers season.


msielski@phillynews.com

@MikeSielski

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