In praise of Steve Mason

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The Philadelphia Flyers are having a tough season. Even after four straight wins, their chances of making the playoffs remain slim.

That being said, we’d be remiss to overlook the season Steve Mason is enjoying in goal. In 30 starts, his .924 save percentage ranks 6th in the NHL, which puts him ahead of the likes of Semyon Varlamov (.923), Henrik Lundqvist (.922), and last year’s Vezina Trophy winner, Tuukka Rask (.921).

And lest we forget, Mason doesn’t have the “he plays behind a great defense” advantage going for him. Ask anyone; the Flyers’ blue line is decidedly not great.

Mason’s career has not been without its highs and lows. The 26-year-old has gone from winning the Calder Trophy in 2008-09 with Columbus to people wondering if he’s even capable of playing in the league anymore to joining the Flyers and rediscovering his confidence again.

“Early in his career he might have enjoyed reading things about how well he was playing in this league and stuff,” said former Jackets teammate and current Flyer R.J. Umberger, per the Courier Post.

“I think now he knows he can be better and continue to be better. I think the highs aren’t too high for him and the lows aren’t too low. It’s an old saying, but I think it’s really true. Right now it seems like he’s really confident walking around with the confidence that he should have.”

Mason will get another start tonight against one of the best offensive teams in the league, the New York Islanders.

His last outing was a 30-save shutout of the Leafs.

Bruins’ second D pair of Seidenberg-McQuaid is an issue

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From CSN New England’s Joe Haggerty, writing about the Bruins’ 3-2 loss to the Rangers last night:

The soft spot in the B’s defense picked on Wednesday night was the pairing of Dennis Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid. The duo relies on rugged physicality to make up for a lack of foot speed as Boston’s middle defensive pairing, but it wasn’t working vs. the Rangers as they finished minus-2 in the loss, and were routinely on their heels vs. speedy Rangers forwards like Nash, Derick Brassard, Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan and Carl Hagelin among others.

McQuaid, of course, has been asked to do a lot more since Johnny Boychuk was traded to the Islanders. The 28-year-old has been playing 18 or 19 minutes a game this season, whereas he averaged 13:02 during the 2011 playoffs and 14:47 in the 2013 postseason.

This isn’t meant to pick on McQuaid. He’s just no Boychuk. The Kings are experiencing similar issues without Slava Voynov playing the right side on the second pair, with Alec Martinez being asked to do more.

And just like that’s a challenge for GM Dean Lombardi in Los Angeles, it’s a challenge for Peter Chiarelli in Boston. The Bruins don’t have a ton of cap space; that’s why they traded Boychuk in the first place. And they’ll be hesitant to give up significant assets for a rental (like, say, Cody Franson) they may not be able to re-sign.

Video: Talbot backstops Rangers to victory over Bruins

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Out of necessity, the New York Rangers went to their back-up goalie Cam Talbot for Wednesday’s Rivalry Night game against the Boston Bruins.

Henrik Lundqvist, who took a puck to the throat on Saturday, is dealing with a neck injury and is now listed as day-to-day. So the Rangers turned to Talbot, who turned aside 18 of 20 shots faced in a 3-2 victory over the Bruins.

The Rangers are in Nashville to face the Predators on Saturday. According to Andrew Gross of The Record, citing head coach Alain Vigneault, it’s possible Lundqvist does not accompany the team on that trip.

Milan Lucic and Patrice Bergeron scored for Boston, with the goals coming 1:52 apart in the first period. That was it for the Bruins. They couldn’t get another by Talbot, who only faced the 20 shots on goal, even though Boston had 52 shot attempts, according to hockeystats.ca.

Derick Brassard and Derek Stepan scored for New York in the second period, erasing the Bruins’ lead, while Rick Nash recorded his 32nd goal of the season.

“We’re going to need him to continue to step in when he needs to and make his saves…Play the way he did tonight,” said Stepan of Talbot, as per Gross.

The Rangers have now won three in a row, and that has tightened the race for the Metropolitan Division.

The Rangers, New York Islanders and division-leading Pittsburgh Penguins, who defeated Edmonton on Wednesday, are all now separated by just two points.

Video: Bruins score twice in 1:52 to take the lead from Rangers (Updated)

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The New York Rangers had the lead, then within the span of less than two minutes, they were trailing the Boston Bruins late in the first period on Rivalry Night.

Milan Lucic and Patrice Bergeron scored just 1:52 apart, turning a Bruins deficit into a Bruins 2-1 lead, which they carried into the second period. Rick Nash opened the scoring for New York, recording his 32nd goal of the season.

Cam Talbot got the start in net for the Rangers, with Henrik Lundqvist (throat) out of action.

Despite the Bruins jumping out to that quick lead toward the end of the period, it’s worth noting they managed only five shots on goal compared to 12 for New York in the opening 20 minutes.

Updated: Just seconds after this clip was posted, the Rangers tied this game up at 2-2 on a goal from Derick Brassard.

Get your game notes: Bruins at Rangers

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Tonight on NBCSN, it’s the New York Rangers hosting the Boston Bruins at 8 p.m. ET. Following are some game notes, as compiled by the NHL on NBC research team:

TOP STORYLINES

• Bruins catching fire: In the 10 games since Jan. 7, Boston has posted an 8-1-1 record.

• This has been a significant turnaround for the B’s, who were criticized publicly by team CEO Charlie Jacobs. On Jan. 6, he called the season “disappointing” and the team’s performance “unacceptable.”

• Before this stretch began, Boston was 5th in the Atlantic and 1 point outside the playoff picture. Now, the B’s are 4th in the Atlantic, in the 2nd Wild Card spot, and 7 points clear of 9th-place Florida in the East.

• Last game (Jan. 31): BOS def. LA 3-1. Tuukka Rask stopped 30 of 31 shots and Brad Marchand scored twice to help defeat the defending champion Kings.

• New York back on track: The Rangers came out of the All-Star Break with a pair of losses (at NYI, vs. MTL), but now have wins in back-to-back games after beating CAR and FLA (outscored them 10-4).

• The Rangers lead the NHL in wins since December 8, going 18-5-0 in that timeframe.

• Last game (Feb. 2): NYR def. FLA 6-3. 11 Rangers registered points, including Rick Nash who scored twice to tie Alex Ovechkin for the league-lead in goals at 31. NYR outscored FLA 3-0 in the 3rd period.

• This game tonight concludes a 4-game home stand for NYR (currently 2-1-0).

BOSTON TEAM/PLAYER NOTES

• Patrice Bergeron leads the team in scoring (33 points), but has only 2 points (both goals) in his past 8 games.

• Brad Marchand had a pair of goals vs. LA, and now has 4 goals in his last 5 games.

• Loui Eriksson (neck) left the game vs. LA after taking a hit into the glass from Robyn Regehr. Eriksson, who had 2 concussions last season, is expected to return vs. NYR according to coach Claude Julien:

“Loui is doing okay. He’s stiff from that neck thing, but he’s expected to play the next game. It wasn’t as severe as it could have been.” – Julien on Monday

• Milan Lucic was held without a point vs. LA, but has 10 points (4G-6A) in his last 10 games.

• Torey Krug enters with an active 3-game point streak (2G-1A). He also has 10 points (2G-8A) in his last 10 games.

• Krug posted 40 points (14G-26A) during a strong rookie season last year, and he is improving slightly on that output this season with 26 points (10G-16A) in 46 GP.

• Tuukka Rask has started 9 of the Bruins’ 10 games during this 8-1-1 stretch, and after stopping 30 of 31 shots vs. the Kings on Saturday, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner is playing better than at the start of the season.

• In the 14 games before Rask’s current hot streak, he had only 1 game in which he allowed 1 or fewer goals. He has allowed 1 or fewer goals in 4 of the 9 games since.

RANGERS TEAM/PLAYER NOTES

• Rick Nash scored twice on Monday vs. FLA – once shorthanded and once into an empty net – to tie Alex Ovechkin (WSH) for the NHL goal-scoring lead at 31.

• Nash reached the 30-goal plateau for the 8th time in his career (1st w/ NYR – 3rd season w/ NYR).

• This is the 12th season since Nash entered the league in 2002-03 as a rookie. In that timeframe, only Ovechkin (10), Jarome Iginla (10), and Ilya Kovalchuk (9) have more 30-goal seasons than Nash.

“It’s a nice accomplishment [to score 30 goals]. It just shows how good my linemates are and how good the team is doing. Personal success always comes after team success.” – Nash after the game vs. FLA

• The last Ranger to lead the NHL in goals in a season was Lynn Patrick in 1941-42.

• NYR’s franchise record for goals in a season is 54 (J. Jagr in 2005-06). Nash is on pace for 53.

• His career high is 41 goals, set in 2003-04 (2nd NHL season; w/ CBJ).

• Carl Hagelin is providing the Rangers with solid secondary scoring of late. He has assists in consecutive games, and 5 points overall in his last 5 games (2G-3A).

• Dan Boyle has goals in consecutive games, including the game-winner Monday vs. FLA. He would tie his career-best (done 3 times) with a 3-game goal streak if he scores vs. BOS.

• Boyle had 9 points (4 goals) in his first 30 games this season.