The Flyers wanted Steve Mason to get comfortable as quickly as possible in Game 4, Mason's first game in nearly two weeks.
They might have chosen a better method than to allow the Rangers a flurry of odd-man rushes and scoring chances, but hey, whatever works. Mason was stellar in the first period on Friday night, stopping 15 of 16 Rangers shots. He finished with 37 saves in the 2-1 Flyers win that evened the series, and now the Flyers come to Madison Square Garden for Sunday's Game 5 with full faith in their goaltender.
"That's not exactly the way you want to start the game," Flyers defenseman Mark Streit said. "[Mason] was outstanding. He had a two-week break and you figure he would be a little rusty, but he made big saves at crucial times."
Mason said he was grateful for the early work. He stopped Mats Zuccarello on a redirection barely a minute into Game 4, then recovered well from giving up a wrap-around goal to Dominic Moore just 4:38 in.
"I got into the game right away," he said. "I found my rhythm early on."
Streit smiled when he was asked if having Mason, who appeared in 61 games this season for the Flyers, built up the confidence of the rest of the team in Game 4.
"Well, you'd think we would have played a little better," Streit said. "We have a quick turnaround for [Sunday], so we know we need to be better."
Streit will have to adjust to a new defense partner for Game 5. Nicklas Grossmann, his regular partner, is out with a right leg injury, Flyers coach Craig Berube confirmed Saturday. Grossmann went into the boards awkwardly in the second period and was helped off the ice; the Flyers buckled down and held off the Rangers the rest of the way with five defensemen.
Braydon Coburn (25:27) and Kimmo Timonen (23:36), who had struggled to contain the Rangers' top line of Derek Stepan, Marty St. Louis and Rick Nash through the first three games, were the two best Flyers on the ice aside from Mason.
Berube would not reveal who will replace Grossmann, but 39-year-old Hal Gill, who played only six games this season, skated with Streit in Saturday's Flyers practice. Gill has a Stanley Cup, won with the Penguins in 2009, but the 6-7 veteran could be facing a fast Rangers team.
"Just leadership and his brains," Berube said of Gill. "He's a smart guy out there. He knows how to play. Doesn't panic. Big body, too, he gets in the way of stuff. Experience, he won before, been around and seen a lot of things."
The most important Flyer is Mason, however, and the 25-year-old goaltender now is firmly back in the Philly net. That will be the biggest obstacle for the Rangers to overcome Sunday.