NEW YORK - Steve Mason could barely stand up to skate off the ice to rest up for the final period of the Flyers' season. He had faced 28 shots, virtually nonstop, in the game's first 40 minutes.
He had faced 18 shots in the past 20 minutes. He allowed two past him, two he had no chance of stopping.
He stopped 26 of them, many of which he had no business stopping.
He had given everything.
So had his defense, and his forwards, and his coach. They played to the extent of their abilities, and it ended this way, in a haze of exhaustion and frustration.
Their final hour was not their finest hour, but then, no one's usually is. Especially not in hockey's second season, in which the only thing that gets healthier is facial hair.
All night, they made mistakes.
All night, they lost battles.
For virtually every minute of their Game 7 loss, 2-1, they were outplayed by a Rangers team that had not spent the night before pushing itself past its limits. There was a spate in the third in which the Rangers played too cautiously, and it cost them a shutout, but that was it.
The Flyers had to play to their limits Tuesday in order to win Game 6 in Philadelphia.
Last night was a cruel and greedy joke of a Game 7, played back-to-back to pander to television rights holders; played on the road, for the Flyers; played at Madison Square Garden, where, for reasons too numerous and complex to enumerate, the Flyers had won once in 4 years.
For a team that scratched from inconsequence to the playoffs over a 5-month span, it was too much to ask. That was evident in the first period; obvious in the second.
"We let them win the game in the second period," said coach Craig Berube, who began the season as an assistant and took over for tyrannical Peter Laviolette after an 0-3 start.
Berube, more than anyone, saved a lost season. He stuck by Claude Giroux, helped Mason reestablish himself as a starter and was as honest with his players as he was with the public.
Honestly cannot be exhausted.
Players can. These Flyers were burnt minutes into the second.
They made mental error after compounded mental error, unable to compensate with their suddenly heavy skates and wooden hands.
In the middle of the second, Giroux, their heroic captain, skated out of the crease and out to the wing, where his soft shot was easily blocked. That led to a Rangers' break the other way - stopped, initially.
Braydon Coburn, who will bear more blame than he deserves, then pushed a pass to Brayden Schenn, a half-stick behind Schenn, and that turnover led to two close calls at Mason. Coburn gave away another, too.
Coburn was not alone. By no means, was he alone.
Even Mason made mistakes; he flicked a glove pass in the first period . . . right in front of his goal. Perhaps the Rangers were too startled to pounce on it.
Scott Hartnell, largely inconsequential in the series, was offside by a full stride 3-on-2 with 2:53 to play in the second.
When the blood flowed, it flowed because of mistakes.
Flyers defenseman Andrew MacDonald inexplicably dropped the puck behind his own goal, where two Rangers awaited. Mats Zuccarello wound up with it, snapped a blind backhand pass across the crease and onto the tape of Dan Carcillo, who lost Coburn and deposited it.
As the period progressed, the Flyers regressed.
Mason stopped one at his feet, but the Flyers failed to clear.
Zac Rinaldo then lost Benoit Pouliot, who snuck in for an easy deflection from Derick Brassard and a 2-0 lead, which proved to be enough.
The Flyers began their playoff run Nov. 9, the first game after a low-watermark 3-0 home loss to the Devils left them 4-10-1. Giroux called a players-only team meeting, at which grievances were aired.
A month later the Flyers were relevant. Not really good; just relevant, 13-14-3 after a 9-4-2 run.
A month after that, following a brilliant, six-game road trip and 10 straight home wins, the Flyers were 23-17-4; or, 19-7-3 since the meeting.
And they were pretty good.
Still, it took all they had every night to compete with the elite.
So, by the time they faced these Rangers in the first round, they were calloused and toughened and hardened.
They also were worn to a nub.
There were few periods, much less games, in which the deeper, crisper Rangers did not outplay them. Last night's second . . . well, that was just erosion.
It was never more evident than in the second period. It was all the Flyers could manage to emerge from the first unbloodied.
They can endure this offseason unbowed.
They won once in this series without Mason, their most important player, who suffered a late-season concussion and wasn't fit to start the first three games. To win this series, they needed him at his best every night.
They won once without defensive stalwart Nicklas Grossmann, who missed the last three games. It showed.
They won three times with virtually no contribution from Vinny Lecavalier, the aged free-agent who managed one goal in his last 10 games, reaching back into the regular season.
He might or might not be nursing another injury.
There is no doubt he was not worth the $6 million he was paid for his services.
Maybe next year.
They scored their goal during their only spell of dominance, and even that had to come oddly. Rookie winger Jason Akeson refired a blocked shot early in the third to cut it to 2-1, but that only served to jolt the Rangers back into focus.
That focus will be on display tomorrow when they employ their cautious, disciplined system that the Penguins very likely expose as poorly suited to playoff advancement.
"They play a good, controlled game," Lecavalier said.
The Flyers, at their best, play with considerably more abandon.
That requires energy.
Maybe next year.