Without any full practices since he injured his right knee on Jan. 10, goalie Steve Mason relieved shaky Ray Emery and keyed the Flyers' 4-3 shootout win over lowly Arizona on Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
Mason stopped 22 of 23 shots and Wayne Simmonds won the shootout after a pretty deke on goalie Mike Smith as the Flyers won their second straight shootout and handed Arizona its seventh consecutive defeat.
"He's been working hard to get back, and he was the best player for us on the ice," winger Jake Voracek said after the Flyers overcame an early 2-0 deficit.
The Flyers outshot the Coyotes, 42-27, and only Smith's brilliant goaltending kept the visitors within striking distance late in the game.
"It was the guys in front of me that won the game," said Mason, who did not surrender any goals in three shootout shots, leading to Simmonds' second shootout winner this month. "They allowed me to kind of get my feet back under me."
Not only was Mason returning from an injury and playing for the first time in seven games, but he was coming back from the flu, which ruined a trip he took to New York with his girlfriend over the weekend. "I spent the majority of time hugging a toilet there," he said.
The Flyers, playing for the first time in a week because of the all-star break, have won two straight.
R.J. Umberger converted a slick pass from Andrew MacDonald, firing a shot high left-circle past Smith (39 saves) to tie the score at 2 with 6 minutes, 5 seconds remaining in the second period. Umberger has six goals in his last 14 games.
With 1:01 to go in the second, Michael Del Zotto took a pass from Voracek, sped deep into the left circle, and gave the Flyers a 3-2 lead by whipping a perfect shot over Smith's right shoulder.
The lead lasted 24 seconds. After a Luke Schenn turnover, Shane Doan sent Tobias Rieder away on a breakaway, and he knotted the game at 3 with 37.1 seconds left in the second.
The Flyers got off to a slow start. Again. Emery allowed two goals on the first four shots and was replaced by Mason just 5:50 into the game.
The first goal was scored by defenseman Connor Murphy, the son of Flyers assistant coach Gord Murphy. Murphy's first goal in 27 games was a drive from just above the right circle that deflected off Emery and caromed high into the air and over his shoulder before trickling into the net.
A little over two minutes later, an all-alone Martin Erat scored on a juicy rebound to make it 2-0.
Mason looked surprisingly sharp, and the Flyers got to within 2-1 as the persistent Simmonds knocked in his second rebound while on a power play with 10:58 left in the opening period. Even with the goal, the Flyers have been outscored by 17-6 in the last 15 first periods.
Earlier in the day, Voracek set the bar high for his team. Voracek, back from his six-point performance in the All-Star Game, knows the Flyers have a long road ahead as they attempt to earn a playoff berth.
"I look at the next 34 games, and win 25 of them, so it's a good challenge," he said before the game.
The Flyers, whose longest winning streak is three straight this season, entered the night 12 points out of a playoff spot with 34 games left.
"We're not in a very good position, but at the end of the day we're still in it," captain Claude Giroux said. "Start winning a couple in a row, and we'll see what we can do."
The March 2 trade deadline is looming.
"We're an extremely tight group, but if we're not going to play as a group on the ice, then sometimes changes have to happen," Mason said. "At the end of the day, the ball is in our court to control what happens. If we can start stringing some things together and give the organization proof that nothing really needs to change, then that's up to us to prove that."