The Philadelphia Flyers tied up their opening-round series with the New York Rangers, 2-2, following a 2-1 victory on home-ice Friday night.
Philly deployed a defense-first strategy, repelling New York's best attacks and doing just enough to pull through offensively. The Flyers were out-shot 38-25. They responded very well after Dominic Moore's opening goal at 4:38 of the first period.
The Flyers responded quickly. A little less than four minutes later, Matt Read leveled the game at 1-1 by scoring after Jason Akeson's pass/shot bounced off the boards and right to his stick.
Tim Panaccio of CSNPhilly.com spoke with both players, who said that it was a designed play:
Read and Akeson both said that was a set play designed to use the boards and generate a shot off the carom— Tim Panaccio (@tpanotchCSN) April 25, 2014
The New York Daily News' Pat Leonard wasn't the only Rangers fan who wondered if Read should even be on the ice in the first place after his hit on Dan Carcillo in Game 3:
Read, in game after no discipline for Carcillo headshot, scores off a bank off back wall by Akeson. 1-1— Pat Leonard (@PLeonardNYDN) April 25, 2014
Jakub Voracek's power-play goal 7:22 into the second period gave the Flyers a 2-1 lead, which they held onto by virtue of Steve Mason's bravura performance, per PhiladelphiaFlyers.com's Anthony SanFilippo:
I don't need to tell you... Steve Mason. #Flyers— Anthony SanFilippo (@InsideTheFlyers) April 26, 2014
Before the game, the Flyers were bolstered by the fact that Mason would get the start ahead of Ray Emery. The former has been the much better goaltender this season, so having him between the pipes for such a critical game was a huge boost.
"When you have a guy that can make the right decisions behind the net, it's very important," Vincent Lecavalier said before the game, per NHL.com's Adam Kimelman. "It helps our defensemen out for sure. Just making that first quick play or them communicating with the defense. It's important to get out of the zone. I think it's going to be a great help for us."
Mason was arguably the Flyers' best player on Friday night, making 37 saves. None was better than his diving stick save on Ryan McDonagh with a little over 18 seconds left in the second period.
No matter the outcome of this series, Mason sprawling out to deny McDonagh will be one of the lasting images.
His performance was all the more impressive when you consider that he's only seen seven minutes and 15 seconds of game action since going down with an injury back on April 12.
CSNPhilly.com's Sarah Baicker stated the obvious:
Steve Mason: Not rusty.— Sarah Baicker (@sbaickerCSN) April 26, 2014
Perhaps Mason was just really excited to have his first ever lead in the Stanley Cup playoffs. He had never been on the winning side in any of his six previous appearances, per Frank Seravalli of the Philadelphia Daily News:
This is the first lead Steve Mason has ever played with in a Stanley Cup playoff game. It's his 5th start and 6th appearance.— Frank Seravalli (@DNFlyers) April 26, 2014
Playoff series can often be decided by which team has the hotter goaltender. Right now, you wouldn't bet against the Flyers. Mason looks in top form, even though he may still have a little bit of rust to shake off.
The teams head back to New York for Game 5. They have Saturday off, with the puck dropping at 12 p.m. ET on Sunday.
Although Game 5 shouldn't be considered a "must win" for either team, the Flyers will want to keep the momentum they built on Friday night, while the Rangers will be looking to use the Madison Square Garden crowd to their advantage and take a 3-2 series lead.