Flyers force Game 7

This article can be found published on Center Ice Hockey Magazine’s website.
Steve Mason was stellar for the Philadelphia Flyers to force a Game 7. (Candice Monhollan)

Steve Mason was stellar for the Philadelphia Flyers to force a Game 7. (Candice Monhollan)

PHILADELPHIA – It seems the key to the Philadelphia Flyers success is to play with their backs against the wall.

And in the do-or-die situation in Game 6 Tuesday night, it was forward Wayne Simmonds and goaltender Steve Mason who stole the show in a 5-2 victory over the New York Rangers.

“They’re used to it,” said Flyers head coach Craig Berube. “Since I’ve taken over, they obviously had a tough start. It’s been an uphill climb the whole time so they’ve played a lot of hockey where their backs have been against the wall and they’re used to it. It’s in them. They have good character. We’re got the same test tomorrow.”

If it wasn’t for the effort of Mason in the first period, the game could have taken a very different turn with the Rangers getting the win they were looking for.

With nine documented turnovers in the opening frame alone, the Flyers were lucky to have Mason bail them out after stopping all 13 shots he saw.

“It’s always important to feel the puck early, I find,” Mason said. “If you’re getting some big saves early on, it’s something to build off of toward the rest of the game. I was able to make a couple timely saves to start off the game and I felt good for the rest of it.”

In front of the stellar goaltender, Simmonds, who could have had three goals in the first if not for Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist making some incredible saves, did end up getting a hat trick in the second period when the Flyers turned their play around.

“It was my first NHL hat trick,” Simmonds said. “We did a good job of avoiding their shot blockers. We had layered screens, we kept the pressure up, we had second chances and third chances and fourth chances and we just kept going. We didn’t quit on plays.”

The Flyers escaped a sloppy first period with a 1-0 lead thanks to Simmonds whacking away around the net on a power play. The Rangers had their chances, but Mason turned them away on each attempt.

“[Mason]’s done it time after time this year,” Simmonds said. “They came in waves and he made some huge saves for us and it allowed us to get our footing under us and we went from there. We got our offensive opportunities and we capitalized tonight, but if it wasn’t for [Mason], I don’t know if those chances would have happened.”

The second period, however, found a much better hockey club out of the Flyers. They needed just 1:32 to get a second goal from Simmonds.

Defenseman Erik Gustafsson, playing in his first game of the playoffs this season, took a penalty, but was in prime position once he exited the box to skate in on a breakaway to give the Flyers a commanding 3-0 lead which they never looked back from.

“I just came out of the box, say [Braydon Coburn] just put the puck down the ice and follow the puck,” Gustafsson said. “Lundqvist was going out for the puck as well, but it just kind of stopped for me. I went down, it was rolling, and I just shot it five-hole.”

Simmonds tacked on his third at 15:19 of the second to extend the lead to 4-0 and put Lundqvist on the bench to start the final period.

Mason continued his strong play, but the Rangers finally broke through at 13:26 when a shot from defenseman Anton Stralman didn’t get through, but forward Carl Hagelin picked up the loose puck and put it by the screened goaltender.

With 4:38 left in the game, Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault pulled goaltender Cam Talbot. Claude Giroux scored on the empty net before the Rangers tacked on one more from Mats Zuccarello.

Mason, who has shined in these playoffs and was once again doing the same in Game 6, received a standing ovation in the third period from the home crowd, even after allowing a goal to end his shutout.

“Those are the moments that send chills down your spine,” he said. “You get 20,000 people chanting your name – those moments don’t happen too often so it’s kind of nice to just take it in. They’re showing their appreciation and you throw your stick up in the air and acknowledge it.

Those are the type of moments when you’re done playing, you can look back on it and say they’re pretty special.”

The deciding Game 7 will take place in less than 24 hours in New York. Madison Square Garden is a tough environment to place in and the Flyers know that, but they also know they have won their last three Game 7s and four of the last five going back to 2003.

“We need to come out and we need to be an aggressive hockey team tomorrow and play with a lot of passion and energy,” Berube said. “You want to move on? You’ve got to give everything you got. Give everything you’ve got tomorrow. Everything. We can’t have anybody not giving everything they’ve got every shift tomorrow.”

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Categories: Ice Hockey, NHL, Sports, Stanley Cup Playoffs

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