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February 26, 2015

Mason unexpectedly returns, but Flyers' comeback attempt falls short

The Flyers' already slim playoff hopes took another devastating hit Thursday night in Toronto.

Although they outshot the Maple Leafs 49 to 17, the Flyers were unable to overcome a three-goal deficit, falling 3-2 at the Air Canada Centre.

The Flyers allowed a goal in each of the three periods, but stormed back late in the third following a timeout by coach Craig Berube and a subsequent brawl behind goalie Steve Mason.

Yes, that Steve Mason.

It was previously reported that Mason would not be ready to go (more on that later), but after starter Rob Zepp allowed two goals on the Leafs' first eight shots, Berube had seen enough.

Captain Claude Giroux scored a power play goal with just under nine minutes remaining and Braden Schenn added another goal -- also coming with a man advantage -- with five and half minutes left, but that would be all the scoring for the Flyers.

With the loss, the Flyers fell to 26-25-11 on the season. More importantly, they failed to get a point for the second game in a row, both* against teams that won't make the playoffs this year.

*They lost to the Hurricanes, 4-1, on Tuesday night.

Coming off a weekend in which they beat the Capitals and Predators, there was suddenly hope that the Flyers could make a late run at the postseason.

If that hope wasn't dashed Tuesday, it almost certainly was on Thursday.

Here are some observations from the game:

Mason forced into action

Steve Mason, who had 60 percent of his right meniscus removed a few weeks ago, was not supposed to play tonight even though he was at the game and in uniform. 

You may be asking yourself why he was even in the lineup if that was the case. I was certainly confused by the move. Why not let rookie Anthony Stolarz hang around until after the road trip?

Frank Seravalli of the Daily News wrote about just that, and breaks it down very nicely:

The Flyers returned rookie Anthony Stolarz to AHL Lehigh Valley yesterday. Without Stolarz unexpectedly returning today - or regular Ray Emery rejoining the team in Toronto with his nagging "lower-body" injury - that means Mason will be required to reinforce starter-du-jour Rob Zepp.
The Flyers used an "emergency goaltender exemption" to add Stolarz, 21, to the roster this week. It is a 48-hour, temporary designation that allows them to exceed the 23-man roster limit. Those 48 hours would have expired before tonight's game.
To prevent Mason from suiting up, the Flyers could have used their second and final goaltender exemption of the season - a move that would have made sense considering rosters are not subject to the same 23-man limit after Monday's trade deadline.  [via]

Even so, it seems like there were other options than rushing back an injury-prone goalie that you just signed to a three-year, $12.3 million contract extension last January.

At the very least, you leave him on the bench unless absolutely necessary -- meaning Zepp would have to go down with an injury. But that didn't happen Thursday night, and yet Mason still played more than half the game.

Perhaps Berube knew how important this game was to his team's playoff chances. The competition gets tougher* from here.

*On Saturday night, the Flyers will host the Rangers, who have won all three meetings this season between the two teams by a combined score of 10-2. That's the first of four-straight games against teams currently bound for the playoffs. The others are: 3/3 vs. Calgary; 3/5 vs. St. Louis; 3/7 at ... Boston.

Still, the move was not enough, as the Flyers were already down 2-0 when he made the switch midway through the second period. And if you had any questions about whether or not Mason would be in net Saturday night, I think you got your answer.

Special teams improvement

The Flyers allowed the Hurricanes to score on two of their four power play opportunities on Tuesday. They did slightly better on Thursday, holding the Leafs just one goal on four chances.

However it was the Flyers power play, specifically the play of Claude Giroux, that helped the Flyers climb back into a game that looked all but over with 10 minutes remaining.

The Flyers scored twice on three third period chances -- they were 2-for-6 overall -- and Giroux was involved in both. He scored the Flyers first goal and assisted on Brayden Schenn's a few minutes later.

Giroux now has a league-leading 31* power play points this season. He has just 28 points in even strength situations.

*He has 11 goals and 20 assists

Shooting spree

The Flyers outshot the Leafs 49-17 in the game. In total the Flyers attempted 89 shots, but only two found the back of the net, and that wasn't until late in the game.

Jonathan Bernier was spectacular in net for Toronto, stopping 47 shots in all.

Rob Zepp, on the other hand, stopped just six of the eight shots he saw. Mason stopped eight of nine. 

Here are a pair of related stats, courtesy of the Flyers:

• The Flyers outshot the Maple Leafs 49-17, a shot differential of plus-32.  Per the Elias Sports Bureau, that’s the largest positive shot differential for the Flyers in a loss since November 25, 1998 when they outshot the New York Islanders 46-14 and lost 4-2 at Nassau Coliseum.
• The 49 shots are the most the Flyers have had in a regulation loss since March 26, 1991 when they took 49 shots in a 3-1 loss to Pittsburgh at the Spectrum.  The last time this happened on the road also was against Toronto, on February 13, 1988, when they took 53 shots in a 7-4 loss at Maple Leaf Gardens. 

As the Leafs change 

Even more damning than the record* of the team the Flyers lost to Thursday night was the state of that team's roster.

*With the win, Toronto moved to 25-31-5 (53 points). 

After a slew of trades, including sending David Clarkson to Columbus for injured winger Nathan Horton and Daniel Winnik to the Penguins, the Leafs were in a bit of disarray. 

Perhaps that at least partially explains their low shot total. 

However, they also got a boost in the form of defenseman Dion Phaneuf, who returned after missing 12 games with an injury and wound up netting the game-winning goal.

Not a playoff team

Considering this, I think it's safe to assume this Flyers team doesn't deserve a postseason birth.

And that was before this game.

Rinaldo ejected

Not quite, but still...