VOORHEES, N.J. - Drama and mystery have been following Steve Mason around since before this series even began.
So, while it was nice of Philadelphia Flyers head coach Craig Berube to end the guessing game over when Mason was going to make his first start of the series on Thursday, it’s not like all the question marks have been eliminated.
Instead of wondering when Mason would be between the pipes, the story shifts to how the Flyers’ No. 1 netminder is going to perform against the New York Rangers at the Wells Fargo Center on Friday night as his team attempts to avoid falling into a 3-1 hole and moving to the brink of elimination.
“I’ll be ready,” said Mason, minutes before Berube made the news of his start official.
After all, Mason has seen only about seven minutes of garbage time since suffering the undisclosed upper-body injury against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Apr. 12 that is believed to be either a concussion or whiplash.
There were some signs that Mason was going to start Game 2, but he appeared to suffer a setback in the latter stages of a workout at Madison Square Garden last Saturday.
Then, after ruling himself out for even dressing as the backup for Game 3 on Monday, Mason did suit up on and eventually replaced Ray Emery with 7:15 left in the third period of the 4-1 loss.
“I had been on the bench for almost 55 minutes, so it was tough to get a real feel,” said Mason, who stopped all three shots that he faced. “But it was nice to get into a little bit of a game atmosphere and close out the game.”
Mason recognizes the stakes are high, but isn’t about to get swept away by the enormity of the situation.
“I don’t prepare myself any differently from the first start to the last start,” said Mason. “I treat every game as if it’s the same and that’s just a way of staying even-keeled and giving yourself no reason to panic.”
Mason had an excellent regular season for the Flyers, tying a career high with 61 appearances while going 33-18-7 with four shutouts, a 2.50 goals against average and .917 save percentage.
“If you look at the difference between a good goalie and a great goalie, it’s how consistent he is and (Mason) has been that all year,” said Flyers centre Vincent Lecavalier.
But Mason has only four starts on his playoff resume, which came in 2009 when the Columbus Blue Jackets earned their first post-season berth, but were outmatched and promptly swept by the Detroit Red Wings.
Mason has endured a lot and come a long way since the Flyers acquired him last April in a trade for Michael Leighton and a conditional 2015 draft pick.
“Just a huge amount. Not just the game, in that sense,” said Mason, who signed a three-year extension worth $12.3 million that kicks in next season. “It’s growing up as a person, going through a lot of difficult times and being able to come out on top, that’s really helped me mature as an individual and then, as a goaltender, as well. Ever since the trade happened, coming to this organization and working with (goalie coach) Jeff Reese and the players around this team, it’s the main reason I’m still playing hockey.”
Mason has provided stability in net for the Flyers, something that hasn’t been common since the days of Ron Hextall, who is now the assistant general manager.
“(Mason) is a talented goalie and we all knew that,” said Berube. “He’s gotten better and better throughout the year. He’s just a battler and he’s come up big all year for us. What more can I say?”
There’s nothing more to say. It’s time for Mason to show what he can do.
In many ways, the Flyers season depends on it.
RICHARDS UNFAZED BY VOW
New York Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault wasn’t the least bit offended by Claude Giroux’s guarantee and apparently, neither are his players.
Following the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 loss to the Rangers on Tuesday, Giroux said his team was going to win on Friday and even the series 2-2 when it shifts back to Broadway on Sunday — causing many to be reminded of the guarantee Mark Messier made 20 years ago when he was captain of the Blueshirts.
Vigneault downplayed the comments during a conference call on Wednesday and Rangers veteran centreman Brad Richards echoed those sentiments after Thursday’s skate at Madison Square Garden.
“I heard some people say he said something, but why wouldn’t he? What’s he going to say: ‘We’re going to go in and lose?’” said Richards. “He wants to win. I’m sure their focus is on that ... We want to go in and win (Friday) too.”