By Tom Dougherty, CSNPhilly.com
Steve Mason refused to take full credit, refused to make it anymore special than it was.
“That’s part of the position,” he said. “Sometimes when the opposition is coming at you, it’s your job to hold the fort and hold it long enough for the guys to come back and get some goals.”
“It was definitely one of those games tonight where the goalie does his job and the players come out and do their job later on.”
Mason had to be sharp early, as he was under siege from the start. The Flyers came out to a sluggish start for the Easter Sunday matinee against Pittsburgh, and the Penguins took it to them.
The Pens fired 22 shots Mason’s way in the first period to go into the intermission with a 22-4 shot advantage. Pittsburgh scored the game’s first goal on the power play, but the Flyers responded quickly with a power-play marker of their own — one of three on the day.
After the first 20 minutes, the score read: 1-1.
“That’s the most shots I’ve faced in one period in a long time, but it gets you into it,” the 26-year-old goalie said. “I was feeling good going into the second period. We gave up a lot of shots to the guys’ credit right to the last minute they were blocking shots, sacrificing themselves.”
His workload wasn’t as heavy as it was in the opening stanza in the final 40 minutes, but his level of play stayed at the same level in the Flyers’ 4-1 win over the Penguins. The win clinched the season series sweep for the orange and black for the first time since 1983-84.
Mason finished with 46 saves, which ties a season high and falls one shy of his career high of 47. He turned away 46 shots in a 1-0 shootout loss to the Islanders on Nov. 24 for one of his three shutouts this year. The win is just his 17th of the season, but it was his 150th of his career.
“The best stat is wins, right?” Flyers head coach Craig Berube said. “Mase has played some great hockey for us, and obviously today he was great again. He’s got a real good save percentage.”
One of Mason’s many game-saving stops — there were many — came six minutes into the contest, when he bailed out Michael Del Zotto with a sprawling glove stop on Penguins forward Craig Adams, who had net to shoot at but couldn’t get it off fast enough.
Adams has one goal on the season, and is far from a goal scorer, but Mason keeping that puck out of the net set the tone early: it’s going to take a lot more to score on him.
“Having Mason is huge,” forward Ryan White said. “Making big saves. He pulled one out of the net against Adams early in the first period. Countless big saves. We stuck together as a group. We tightened up defensively. Had a couple big goals. But our goalie played great tonight.”
With the Flyers leading 2-1 in the third period, White gave Mason some comfort room with his career-high sixth goal and his first career power-play goal. The Flyers’ PP was 3 for 4 and is now 10 for their last 28 during their current eight-game winning streak against Pittsburgh.
But it all comes back to that first period. The Pens were swarming, and could have taken complete control of the game. Had it been a different goalie in net, the Flyers could have saw a two-to-three goal deficit when they reconvened in the intermission. Instead, it was tied.
“They definitely carried the play for the first period,” Mason said, “but we were able to come away with an even score and that’s all we can ask coming out of that period.”
Pittsburgh defenseman Rob Scuderi agreed — the Penguins did carry the play. But there was one difference maker and that was Mason, which is something the Pens are becoming accustomed to.
“I thought we carried the play,” he said. “I don’t think there was anything they did to really stop us except — it was the power play and Mason vs. the Penguins and that sometimes happens.”
Coming into Sunday, Mason’s 2.22 goals-against average was fifth in the NHL, and his .928 save percentage was third. After the game, he moved into fourth place (2.19) and second (.929), respectively. In a season of disappointments, his save percentage is something to hold onto.
“It is a source of pride,” he said. “It’s something a lot of people talk about in measuring a goaltender’s performance and I’ve just tried to maintain a level of play I can be proud of going into next season.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE: See the story on CSNPhilly.com)