PHILADELPHIA – Steve Mason and the Flyers are playing their best hockey of the season heading into the Olympic break.
It’s a break team chairman Ed Snider would love to abolish.
Mason stopped 38 shots, and Mark Streit and Michael Raffl scored goals, leading the Philadelphia Flyers past the Colorado Avalanche 3-1 on Thursday night.
Mason blanked Detroit 5-0 on Jan. 28 and stopped the Los Angeles Kings 2-0 on Feb. 1. He was only 2:50 away from his fourth shutout of the season, and third in five games, when Nathan MacKinnon beat him for his 21st goal of the season. Mason stopped his first 33 shots.
Mason, who signed a three-year extension last month, has been the key reason the Flyers have been able to hang around in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
With one game left before the break, the Flyers’ recent spurt could stall because of the Olympics.
“I hate them,” said Snider, the Flyers founder.
He added: “It’s ridiculous, the whole thing is ridiculous. I don’t care if it was in Philadelphia, I wouldn’t want to break up the league. I think it’s ridiculous to take three weeks off, or however long it is, in the middle of the season. It screws up everything. .. How can anybody be happy breaking up their season. No other league does it, why should we? There’s no benefit to us whatsoever. If anything, I can only see negatives.”
Reminded the Flyers reached the Stanley Cup finals during the last Olympics in 2010, Snider laughed.
“Maybe I like them,” he said. “I forget about that.”
Claude Giroux, who scored an empty-netter with 20 seconds left, has plenty of time to rest during the break. He was snubbed Thursday by Hockey Canada when Martin St. Louis was picked as an injury replacement for his Tampa Bay teammate Steven Stamkos.
Steve Yzerman, the Canadians’ executive director and Tampa Bay’s general manager, chose St. Louis over Giroux and Pittsburgh’s James Neal.
“It’s a farce,” Snider said. “He’s one of the best players in the game. It’s ridiculous. He’s better than half the guys on that team.
“Anybody that thinks that Claude Giroux doesn’t belong on the Canadian team, they don’t know anything about hockey as far as I’m concerned. It’s politics, to a certain degree. He had to pick his own guy. His own guy is good, but Claude is better.”
The Avalanche, who lost 5-1 to the New York Rangers on Tuesday, couldn’t solve Mason until it was too late.
The Avalanche called timeout with 1:27 left and pulled goalie Semyon Varlamov in a last-gasp effort at the tying goal. It didn’t work.
The Flyers scored in the second period, when Streit’s shot from the blue line was deflected by a defenceman and wobbled past Varlamov for his eighth goal. Streit is heading to his fourth Olympics for Switzerland.
The Flyers got a scare when centre Brayden Schenn was checked from behind into the boards by Patrick Bordeleau. Schenn quickly got on his skates, and his teammates went after Bordeleau behind the net. Bordeleau threw his right elbow into Schenn’s back and the Flyer thumped the board, and then hit the ice.
Bordeleau was hit with 5 minutes for checking from behind and a game misconduct. Colorado coach Patrick Roy was red faced and furious as he argued with the officials that the hit didn’t merit an ejection.
Mason’s play picked up after a recent pep talk from Hall of Fame goalie Bernie Parent. Mason stopped 14 shots in the first period and made the save of the night in the second when he robbed Gabriel Landeskog with a glove save from his rear.
“I think we didn’t make it hard enough for him in the first 55 minutes,” Landeskog said. “I think the last five, we were in his face, banging rebounds, and trying to bang one home there and made it hard on him. We started throwing pucks from different angles and tough angles and what not.”
Mason posted a 1.51 goals-against-average over his last four starts, stopped 95 per cent of his shots and had two shutouts.
“The job as starting goalie every night is to make sure we provide stability back there, and that’s what I’m trying to do,” he said.
Raffl’s seventh goal of the season, off a nice pass by Sean Couturier from behind the net, early in the third was the insurance the Flyers needed to win their third straight.
Notes: The Flyers had a video tribute and a moment of silence for former coach and general manager Keith Allen. Allen died Tuesday. He was 90. “I love Keith Allen,” Snider said. … Lauren Hart, the daughter of longtime former Flyers broadcaster Gene Hart, sang “God Bless America,” alternating lyrics with Kate Smith, who was on a video image. Smith’s rendition of the song has been a rallying anthem for the Flyers since the mid-1970s.