NEW YORK - Among the past disappointments at this time of year, goaltending was almost always front and center. Even when the Flyers made the Stanley Cup finals four springs ago, their tag-team tandem of veteran goaltenders seemed a dam waiting to break, and when their luck ran out the following year, it ushered in what is now known as the Bryz error.
The list is nearly inexhaustible. There was Roman Cechmanek and Robert Esche and, if you want to go way back, Sean Burke, Garth Snow and, lest we forget, Jeff Hackett.
So here's your silver lining:
The Flyers have found a goalie they can trust. Not only in the daily grind of a regular schedule. In the heat of a hotly contested playoff series, when a big save at the right time can infuse adrenaline and a soft goal at the wrong time can drain it from your team, and from your building.
"That was my goal coming into the year," Mason said after the Flyers were eliminated, 2-1, in Game 7 by the Rangers. "Overall, I was proud of what was able to be accomplished. But when you come out on the losing end of a seven-game series, it leaves a sour taste in your mouth. But that's going to be enough motivation going forward to the summer time . . . to building with this group of guys we have.
"We have such a great core that I think the Philly fan base has something to really look forward to."
Mason gave the Flyers a chance to win last night, just as he had the previous night. He stopped 31 of 33 shots, many acrobatically. He might have even stolen this Game 7 with just a little more help from his defense and a bit more pressure from an offense that scored two or fewer goals in five of the seven games it played.
The Flyers' lone goal scorer last night was Jason Akeson, the Game 1 goat and Game 2 goal-scorer, who spent the entirety of his season playing in Glens Falls, N.Y.
Why? I don't know why.
But those are the issues of this offseason. Not the goaltender, and, really, when's the last time you could say that? They signed Ray Emery for $1.6 million last offseason, because they weren't sure what they had in Mason.
They should be sure now.
" 'Mase' is world-class," Akeson said. "And he's got a lot of hockey left in him."
Again, when's the last time you heard that about a Flyers goaltender? Brian Boucher maybe, so maybe we need some repetition here. Except that Mason has already been through his personal trials, has already developed the practice habits and mental toughness that allowed him to reclaim his career in a place known for its impatience with goalies.
Here's another reason to believe. It's not a magic act with him. There's no unorthodoxy that could be exposed in the future, no questioning his fortitude. Last night he finally acknowledged what had been widely speculated, that he suffered a concussion in the second to last game of the season. What we didn't know was that he had headaches right up until the night before his first playoffs start, which means he really couldn't have been ready to start that Game 4.
Or shouldn't have. But it's another thing to like about him. He's a player, not a goaltender. He talks like a teammate, plays like a teammate, handles the puck so well, it often hides how much work needs to be done with that Flyers blue line if this team wants to jump from its current middle-of-the-pack status in the NHL to among the elite.
For all the talk about the Flyers' second-half surge, it should not be forgotten that the NHL's goofy, new playoff system featured four matchups of teams that had amassed more points than the Flyers or the Rangers.
That only adds to the gnawing what-if of last night's loss, the specter of falling just short of playing a banged-up and dysfunctional Pittsburgh team in the next round.
If you thought the Rangers and their fans pushed out a sigh of relief when the final horn sounded last night, open your window.
That surge of hot air you felt came from Pittsburgh.
They surely are happy they will see Henrik Lundqvist instead of Steve Mason. And everyone pulling off their orange-and-black jerseys for the last time this season knew it.
"Hurts big time," Mason said. "Nobody in this locker room was ready to pack it in after the long season we had. But I think you can definitely be proud of what this group accomplished, considering the start we had in the regular season. The character that every single one of the guys in this locker room showed, to be able to battle back and force a Game 7. This group was a lot of fun to play with, and I'm looking forward to growing with them in the future."