NEW YORK – The Flyers were prepared for Steve Mason’s return.
They’d brought him up from Philadelphia, gotten him some extra ice time and returned backup goalie Cal Heeter to the Adirondack Phantoms.
Mason felt prepared too. Until suddenly, at Saturday's practice, he realized he wasn’t.
“Probably the last 10 minutes in practice,” Mason said. “What’s bothering me wasn’t feeling very good. Talking with Homer [GM Paul Holmgren] and Chief [coach Craig Berube] there, I decided that I needed to give it a little more time before I get back in there.”
He’s now targeting Tuesday, Game 3 against the New York Rangers at the Wells Fargo Center, for his return. Mason won’t be able to back up Ray Emery Sunday afternoon in Game 2. Heeter will travel from Hershey, Pa., back to New York to fill that role.
Mason participated in the full Flyers practice Saturday, and didn’t seem to have any trouble for most of the session – he said he felt “for the most part, pretty solid.”
It wasn’t until the closing minutes of practice that Mason skated to the bench and leaned over it with his head down for a few minutes, clearly uncomfortable. He spent time talking to the team’s trainers with captain Claude Giroux looking on.
He didn’t call it a setback, however.
“It’s all part of the process,” Mason said. “I think we’re doing everything that we can to make sure we’re treating it the proper way. As much as it’s frustrating, I think everybody understands it’s going to be a process.”
The Flyers say only that Mason has an “upper-body injury” and remains day to day. The goaltender declined to describe what was bothering him at Saturday’s practice, but has indicated that it isn’t a concussion.
Both Holmgren and Berube agreed Mason looked good through most of practice, as he had a day earlier on the ice with a few players at a rink at Chelsea Piers (see story). The decision to keep Mason out yet another game was made “as an organization,” according to Berube, though everything really came down to what Mason believed he could handle.
“Steve’s the one that’s out there doing what he needs to do,” Holmgren said. “I was happy with the progression that’s been made over the last couple days, but he’s not ready.”
And so, Emery will once again be in net for the start of Game 2. He played much better than the 4-1 final of Game 1 indicated, stopping 32 Rangers shots and keeping the Flyers in the game for more than 45 minutes.
Though Mason was the Flyers’ starting goalie through almost all of the regular season, Emery played well Thursday night and wasn’t at all a liability. No fingers can be pointed at him for the loss.
That, perhaps, is the silver lining in all of this.
“I thought he looked good,” Berube said. “He looked sharp. He looked sharp again at practice. Those third-period goals [in Game 1] were power-play goals that there’s not much you can do on them, in my opinion. We have to do a better job.”
Mason, despite the decision, was again in good spirits Saturday. He’s clearly feeling better, it’s now just a matter of him feeling 100 percent – and he’s hopeful that will come soon.
It’s what the Flyers' organization as a whole is pulling for, too.
“You always hope for the best, obviously,” Holmgren said. “In the brief time he was out there, I thought he looked fine. He’s just not ready. We’ll wait another day.”