About a month ago, the Flyers and then goaltender coach Jeff Reese decided to mutually part ways in what was later rumored to be a difference of opinion in how to ease Steve Mason back from injury. Naysayers thought that Mason would crumble as Reese was responsible for saving his career. Instead, Mason has been one of the top goaltenders in the league during the second half of the season, which would be the case in Philadelphia on Easter Sunday.
Sunday’s home game against the Pittsburgh Penguins was no ordinary tilt. Besides being the final meeting of the 2014-15 campaign, this game felt like much more. It felt like a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Final. The contest was flexed in order to be broadcast nationally. The arena was packed to capacity for a team that has already been eliminated from postseason contention. Pittsburgh was in town, and everybody had a little extra jump in their step, including Mason.
The Pens jumped all over the Flyers early, firing a game’s worth of shots (22) at Mason in the first stanza alone. The only blip was a Brandon Sutter goal that was quickly countered by Jakub Voracek to send the teams to the intermission in a 1-1 deadlock.
After being outshot and generally outplayed in the first period, the Flyers came out with more urgency in the second and the game began to have its typical rivalry feel with an increase in physical play both before and after the whistles. Penguin headache Brayden Schenn recorded the only goal of the period on an assist by Voracek (his second point of the day) and the teams took their second and final break with the Flyers leading 2-1 despite being outshot 36 to 13.
The two teams picked up where they left off in the third as play was back and forth and both the Penguins and Flyers traded scoring chances left and right. With the Flyers holding the lead and Mason’s stellar acrobatics holding the Pens to just one goal, frustrations began to topple over, especially when veteran Chris Kunitz fired the puck at the empty net when touching up on a delayed call. The Flyers took exception to this display of disrespect and a small melee ensued. Voracek was in the middle of the scrum and received 10 minutes in the sin bin for his troubles.
Another reason to love Jake Voracek, taking it to Kunitz.
— Lauren Hart (@LaurenHartMusic) April 5, 2015
Voracek has turned himself into quite the complete player and has added that physical element to his game this season which has helped him to create scoring chances for himself as well as his linemates on the ice. Needing two more points to tie Sidney Crosby for the league lead, Voracek was left to watch the Flyers hold down the fort without him for the most crucial part of the third period. Steve Mason made save after save, a few of which an average run-of-the-mill goaltender would never block.
An insurance goal by Ryan White mixed with Michael Del Zotto scoring his 10th of the season helped nail the coffin closed on the Penguins and dealt them a devastating blow as they attempt to hold on to one of the last playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.
Mason finished the afternoon as the first star with a sensational 46-save performance. He continues to give the organization and fan base hope that with a little extra help in front of him, he can lead the team back to the postseason and beyond. Voracek was named the second star after a two point performance (1 goal, 1 assist) saw him climb to within two points of Crosby while remaining one point behind John Tavares and Alex Ovechkin.
For a game with such energy and passion, one would find it hard to believe that this is a Flyers club who will be packing up their locker room in one week. Frustrated with how their own season is heading, the Penguins decided to remind the Flyers of that very truth:
— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) April 5, 2015
As Frank Seravalli points out, the Penguins should refrain from throwing stones in glass houses. Their inability to defeat the Flyers has left them needing to win their remaining games in order to maintain their spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. As they could do nothing other than remind the Flyers of their lost season, 19,000 strong helped to remind the Penguins of the most important truth of the afternoon:
Thanks in large part to Steve Mason and Jakub Voracek, the Flyers began their final homestand on a positive note and played a key role in denying a victory in one of the most important games of the season for the Penguins.
As this bitter rivalry has evolved to more than just the game on the ice, I will leave you with some of the best notes following the Flyers victory:
What a season sweep by the Flyers we own the @penguins YOU GUYS CANT BEAT US!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
— Brandon Robertson (@Flyers_12_15_07) April 5, 2015
Has anybody informed Super Mario and his business associates that the Flyers actually own the Penguins?
— Craig (@_craigtweets) April 5, 2015
— Corey Benedict (@CoachBene70) April 5, 2015
It has now been 535 days since the Penguins last beat the Flyers. I'd be salty too.
— Andy Dudones (@ADudones) April 5, 2015
Enjoy this victory, Flyers fans. Who knows, the Penguins may soon be pulling up a chair for the draft lottery.
Is this the best rivalry in hockey? Let me know in the comments and/or on twitter @healedbyhockey