Brooky: Flyers need to make a decision on goalie

121615_mason-neuvirth_1200
Flyers goalie Steve Mason (left) and Michal Neuvirth.

This was once the place where the who's who of NHL goaltenders resided.

Back when Kate Smith was the league's No. 1 anthemist even though she never actually sang the national anthem, the Flyers won consecutive Stanley Cups because Bernie Parent, with a full head of natural hair and an infinite amount of natural talent, was the best in the world at stopping pucks.

Shortly after he called it quits, Pelle Lindbergh arrived from Sweden and willed the Flyers to a Stanley Cup Finals they might not otherwise have reached.

Almost immediately after Lindbergh's tragic death on a South Jersey road he never should have been on, Ron Hextall arrived with an entirely different set of magic tricks, including the ability to stop and score goals.

As we all know around here, that was a long time ago and ever since we've watched goaltenders come and go - a Roman, Crazy Bryz, Promising Bob, and all the rest - with no rhyme, reason or rings.

The Flyers' string of Cup-less seasons is likely to reach 41 this year, but rookie coach Dave Hakstol is hoping to at least get his team back into Lord Stanley's tournament, a goal that was aided Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center by a dominating 4-2 victory that ended the Tampa Bay Lightning's nine-game winning streak.

The win allowed the Flyers to complete a 5-1 homestand and move within two points of Detroit for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. If they are to get there, Hakstol believes his goaltending situation will be a huge reason why.

"Our goaltending has been a strength for us all year long," the coach said after his team's morning skate Monday. "Both guys have contributed. Both guys have supported each other. Whichever guy is in the net, our guys are confident in that player, so I don't really have a whole lot more to discuss on our goaltending. That's how I feel about it."

It was an awkward and defensive way for Hakstol to compliment the two-man team of Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth. It's not that he was wrong. Even though the goaltending situation has not gone as planned - the much lower-paid Neuvirth has been in net a lot more than expected because he has earned that time - it has been a good situation for the most part.

But the season is ticking away and it's preferable to have a true No. 1 goaltender at crunch time rather than two guys who are good but not great. It would seem as if the higher-paid Mason is going to get that chance right now.

After sitting out five straight games, including the first four of this critical homestand, he made his second straight start Monday. He wasn't great, but he did not have to be because the Flyers skated and hit with the kind of intensity you'd expect and hope for from a team trying to make a playoff push.

The Lightning's first goal early in the first period was a bit of a fluke. It caromed off Radko Gudas' skate and right onto the stick of Ondrej Palat, who fired it into the right side of the net.

Shots were few and far between for Tampa Bay after that as the Flyers built a 31-9 advantage in that department through the first two periods and held a 3-1 lead before Vladislav Namestnikov scored with 5 minutes, 7 seconds remaining on a wicked one-timer.

Wayne Simmonds' empty netter in the final minute ended the drama for this night, but the Flyers' goaltending situation will likely have some more twists and turns before the season is over.

Mason is hoping he is about to take command of the position.

"Of course," he said. "Every goaltender wants to play. I'm sure the same goes for Michal. This isn't exactly how I scripted it, but you just roll with it and work hard. Whenever you get the opportunity to play, you want to play well."

For the first three months of the season, Hakstol referred to Mason as his top goalie, but he stopped doing that recently and, again, that's because Neuvirth had earned the extra playing time that caused reasonable doubt about the goaltending situation.

It's nice, of course, to have two good goaltenders, but even better to have one good one and one great one. The Lightning, for example, rested Ben Bishop, their great goaltender, and went with their good one, Andrei Vasilevskiy, on this night. If not for Vasilevskiy, the Flyers would have been up by five at the end of two periods.

Instead, they were locked in 1-1 tie entering the final period only after Gostisbehere scored into an open right side of the net on the Flyers' 30th shot of the game late in the second period.

Earlier in the game, Vasilevskiy stonewalled the Flyers on a two-on-none situation and it seemed as if he might be impenetrable.

But the Flyers kept peppering the 21-year-old Russian and got a victory that greatly enhanced their playoff hopes. Now, Hakstol has some decisions to make going forward about his goaltending situation and he swears it will not be difficult.

"Absolutely not," the coach said. "That's a strength for our team."

It's going to have to be and it will be fascinating to see which guy the coach rides with down the stretch.

bbrookover@phillynews.com

@brookob