VOORHEES, N.J. – The wait is over. Steve Mason will start in his first playoff game in five years Friday against the New York Rangers.
Mason hasn’t started a game since April 12 and hasn’t played a complete game since April 8, but said he feels sharp and ready to play in Game 4.
The Flyers trail the Rangers in the series, 2-1.
“For a goaltender, it’s a matter of if you’re tracking the puck well off the sticks around your body,” he said. “Toward the end of [Thursday’s] practice I felt really sharp, especially on the power play stuff there. I was moving well, seeing the pucks through screens.
"If that’s a gauge for myself, I feel pretty good.”
Mason, who sustained an upper-body injury in the Flyers’ second-to-last game of the season against the Pittsburgh Penguins, missed Game 1 and Game 2 of the team’s first-round series against the Rangers. He dressed as Ray Emery’s backup in Game 3, and played the final 7:15 of the 4-1 loss.
That small stretch of time helped him, Mason said, but not much.
“At that point in time, I had been sitting on the bench for almost 55 minutes so it’s tough to get a real feel,” he said. “But it was nice to get back in a little bit of a game atmosphere and close out the game.”
Mason watched the series' first two games from the Madison Square Garden press box, and used that experience combined with what he saw in Game 3 and watched on video to take plenty of mental notes on the Rangers’ strategy.
Of course, the Rangers will likely approach Mason differently from how they took on Emery, who has a well-known weakness moving laterally. Mason has done his best to be prepared for whatever they throw at him.
“Every player looks at video,” he said. “I do a lot of video with Reeser [goalie coach Jeff Reese], goalie-specific stuff about how the Rangers are presenting themselves for the whole series.
“Every goalie plays in a different way. They were attacking Razor [Emery] in certain ways that Reeser thinks they might do differently for myself. With all that video, you try to be as prepared as possible. But everything happens so quickly at game time, you just have to be ready for anything. If you’re prepared for it through the video, you’re going to give yourself the best opportunity to succeed.”
Thursday’s practice marked the third straight day Mason has had no noticeable health issues while on the ice. It was a huge relief for the goaltender who said he just wants to do what he can to help his team even up the series before the Flyers return to New York for Game 5.
And one thing Mason can do is stickhandle -- all throughout the season, he was strong at handling the puck, a big assist to the Flyers’ breakout. That could go a long way toward helping the Flyers on Friday.
“You look at ways that you can help out your defensemen,” Mason said. “Help to transition into a breakout a little bit smoother and spend less time in our own zone. If that’s something that I can help out on, it’ll be a benefit to us.”
Mason closed out the regular season with a .917 save percentage and 2.50 goals-against average. He wasn’t perfect, though, and went through a couple stretches where he struggled. Those streaks, however, never lasted very long, and Mason was always able to pick himself up quickly after a poor outing.
That, according to teammate Vinny Lecavalier, is what separates him from the pack.
“The difference between a good goalie and a great goalie is how consistent he is,” Lecavalier said. “He has been all year. He’s been a great player for us, and obviously a leader on the ice. Every night, he definitely brings it for sure.”
As strong as he’s played, Mason has yet to win a playoff game in his career. Now that he’s finally healthy and finally starting, he’s eager to get a chance to change that Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
“You don’t want to be sitting on the sidelines, especially come playoff time,” Mason said. “If you can do something that helps the team win a hockey game, that’s a good feeling.
“Everybody realizes that there’s still a lot of hockey to be played, and we’re not worried too much.”