By Anthony SanFilippo, Flyers.com
NASHVILLE – Steve Mason doesn’t seem to give up any bad goals. So, when Colin Wilson beat him under his right pad with a knuckleball, you could see the frustration on Mason’s face.
Never mind that he had kept the Flyers in the game to that point. Never mind that without him the Flyers would have been in a bad way to start the road trip.
The old Mason – the one that crumbled under mounting pressure and lost confidence in Columbus, may have let that goal eat away at him and allow the game to slip away.
The new Mason, the one who has undoubtedly been the best player on the Flyers this season, and arguably one of the best goalies in the NHL as well, responded with sheer awesomeness.
He finished with 34 saves and added two more in a shootout that don’t show up on the score sheet, but made the difference between one and two points as the Flyers defeated the Predators 3-2 at Bridgestone Arena.
Time and again Nashville had the puck in the Flyers end due to sloppy play, be it turnovers or lost battles on 50/50 pucks, but they had a harder time solving Mason then understanding the golden ratio Phi (or approximately 1.618 for you non-math geeks).
“It’s not the first time we’ve seen that [from him],” said captainClaude Giroux, who scored the first Flyers goal in the opening period on a slap shot of a loose puck in the high slot. “He’s been solid for us. At one point during the game he was a little sloppy and he shut the door for us. It kind of gave us our confidence back.”
The confidence, which was in danger of waning much of the night, came back in the third period with the team trailing 2-1 when Andrej Meszaros made a great play with the puck, faking like he was going to carry it behind the Nashville net before spinning around and putting it on the tape of Sean Couturier who roofed it for his third goal of the season and second in as many days.
“He made a great play there,” Couturier said. “[Steve Downie] deserves credit on the play too for drawing everyone to him and then dropping it to [Meszaros]. Meszaros then made a nice move to get it over [to me.]”
From there, Mason took over.
He stopped a lot of close in shots but there was nothing better than the breakaway save on Wilson with 30 seconds left in overtime, flashing a left pad on him to make the stop, and drawing even with Wilson for the earlier goal.
Then, in the shootout, it was a right pad on Craig Smith to start which was key but paled in comparison to the next save.
After Vinny Lecavalier took the Tortoise’s approach to a shootout goal (‘Slow and steady wins the race’), Matt Hendricks made a deft move to try and tie it. Mason was fooled by the move, but never gave up on the play and made an astounding recovery to thwart the effort.
“I bit hard on his first move and was kind of down and out,” Mason said. “But that’s one of those battling types of saves that I try to work on in practice where if you have a second opportunity you are not giving up. I’ve said it before they come through in games and that was an opportunity for one right there.”
A final chance for Nashville by Matt Cullen missed high over the net, securing the win for Mason and the Flyers.
Mason finally has a winning record at 9-8-2 and continues to climb the leader board statistically.
Among the 27 goalies with at least 800 minutes in net, Mason ranks sixth in goals against average at 2.09 and fourth in save percentage at .934.
“Since the start of the year he’s been unbelievable and he’s making key saves at the right time,” Couturier said. “He’s keeping us in games when we aren’t playing our best. He’s our key player for sure.”
Key enough to get the Flyers back to faux .500 (12-12-2, 26 points) and keep pace in the Metropolitan Division with the teams ahead of them who also won Saturday.
“It was an ugly win,” Giroux said. “I think we know that we can play better and that we can have better plays out there. At the end we got it done and we just have to move forward and try to get better there.”
NOTES: The Flyers won in Nashville for the first time since March 21, 2000. They had been 0-1-4 (two ties, two shootout losses) in Nashville since… Mason picked up his first shootout win as a Flyer, while Vincent Lecavalier scored his first shootout goal as a Flyer… After dropping their first four games this season played on back-to-back nights, the Flyers are 5-1 since and have won four straight… Giroux’s goal was unassisted. Combine that with the two unassisted goals against Winnipeg Friday and it was the first time the Flyers had recorded three consecutive unassisted goals since February and March of 2009.