THE FLYERS unearthed Kate Smith from the grave for another rendition of "God Bless America" last night, because, well, that is what they do when it is must-win.
When the final horn sounded, practically blowing the roof off the Wells Fargo Center, the Flyers high-fived and retreated to their dressing room. Inside, Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" was blasting - the same postgame victory anthem that carried the Flyers within two wins of a Stanley Cup in 2010.
The Rangers gave enough last night.
Steve Mason gave the Flyers more. Much more.
Making his first Stanley Cup playoff start in more than 5 years, Mason steadied the Flyers through a hellacious first-period onslaught, pushing them to an all-important 2-1 win in front of 20,132 rambunctious fans. He was the series-changer the Flyers so desperately needed.
The victory not only proved captain Claude Giroux to be a prophet for the second time this season, but also deadlocked their best-of-seven Metropolitan Division semifinal series at two games apiece.
Game 5 is tomorrow afternoon at Madison Square Garden, a friendlier place for the Flyers after their 4-2 win there last Sunday to break a nine-game skid on Broadway.
"He battles," Giroux said of Mason. "He hadn't played in a while, but some of the saves he made - especially in the third - that was pretty impressive."
Yes, the goaltender who didn't stop a meaningful puck for each of the last 2 weeks while nursing his mysterious "upper-body" injury, bailed out a group teetering on the edge of disaster. Mason was especially calm in the final minutes of the third period, clinging to that one-goal lead, with the Rangers swarming around him.
The Flyers were able to do it playing with only five defensemen for the final 35 minutes after Nick Grossmann left the game early in the second period and by killing off all four Ranger power plays.
"I'd say 2-2 is a heck of a lot better than 3-1," winger Wayne Simmonds said. " 'Mase' played great. He made a lot of big saves They obviously put pressure on us those last 2 to 3 minutes. We did a good job fending off their attack and getting pucks out of the zone. I think it was huge for our confidence, and for him to get his confidence back. He played unbelievable for us."
The alternative, returning to Manhattan on the brink of elimination and needing to beat Henrik Lundqvist in three straight games, was admittedly daunting. The Flyers have come back from a 3-1 series deficit only once in franchise history: in 2010 against the Bruins.
The Flyers don't have to dance on that tightrope - not yet at least. They are 14-7 all-time when tied at two games in a series - also 12-9 in Game 5s when entering locked up at two.
"For us, I think, this was a must win," Mason said. "You don't want to go into MSG down, 3-1. I didn't put any extra pressure on myself. It was a lot of fun to get back out there in this kind of atmosphere.
"The Wells Fargo Center is second to none in my opinion, just watching on TV all those years prior to getting to this organization. That kind of crowd - it's hard to describe."
The Flyers were outshot by the Rangers, 16-6, in the first period - but Mason's unflappability allowed his teammates to settle in and impose their will on New York. Believe it or not, Mason said the Flyers' first-period struggles actually allowed him to knock the rust off after an unexpected absence.
"I think just to be able to get into the game right off the bat," Mason said. "I hadn't played in almost 2 weeks. It was good to feel the puck right away, make some saves and gain some confidence to carry that forward the rest of the game.
"I've been practicing a lot. That really carried through to today's game, they had a lot of stuff behind the net. We've been working on my post work and making sure I'm tight , and that work kind of paid off tonight."
Jason Akeson bounced a puck off the backboards to Matt Read to send the game to the first intermission tied at 1-1. Then, Jake Voracek tipped a Brayden Schenn shot over Lundqvist to give the Flyers their first lead since Sunday at the Garden. It was Mason's first-ever lead in a playoff game, coming in his sixth appearance.
From there, the Flyers turned up the heat on their physical game and suckered the Rangers into nonsense after the whistle. The post-whistle pushing and shoving was something New York did such a good job of avoiding in the first three games.
"We wanted to come out physical and play on the line, but not over the line," Simmonds said. "I think we did a good job with that. We came out, we were physical and everyone was taking the body, and I think that set the tone for the rest of the game."
Comebacks have been commonplace in the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring. Entering last night, 24 of the 32 games played were won by a team coming from behind. Nine of those wins were comebacks by multiple goals.
The amazing part is the Flyers have been able to salt away time in the third period clinging to each of their playoff wins. They are now one-eighth of the way to a Stanley Cup, but, more important, they are level with the Rangers again.
The Flyers are now 96-28-4 all-time when Kate Smith or her recording performs "God Bless America" before a playoff game. Giroux guaranteed it, but Mason delivered his own first career playoff win.
"I've waited a long time for it," Mason said. "But one doesn't do very much in the long run."
Five minutes into the second period, Nick Grossmann's skates slid out from underneath him as he went to check a Rangers forward to the right of Mason. Grossmann's right ankle and knee bent awkwardly as they made first contact with the boards, the full weight of his body following.
The only update the Flyers provided was Grossmann left the game with a "lower-body" injury. He will be re-evaluated by team doctors today. Grossmann, 29, regularly wears a knee brace on each leg under his equipment. If Grossmann cannot play tomorrow, healthy scratches Erik Gustafsson, Hal Gill and Oliver Lauridsen are available.