It’s been five long years since goalie Steve Mason was last in an NHL playoff race.
It's been so long, his wait dates all the way back to his Calder Trophy year of 2008-09.
Mason won a career-high 33 games his rookie season to push Ken Hitchcock’s Columbus Blue Jackets into the playoffs -– their only playoff appearance in franchise history -- where they were swept in four games by Detroit.
The Flyers are in the thick of a playoff race with the New York Rangers. Both clubs are virtually certain to make it, and the only guesswork is who finishes second in the Metropolitan Division.
The loser will drop to third and forfeit home-ice advantage for the first round.
“This is what we play hockey for,” Mason said. “Situations where you are playing meaningful games this time of year. To be in the position we are [now] after the start we had to the season says a lot about this time. It’s definitely exciting.”
Mason, who will not start tonight when the Flyers meet the Blues for the second time in less than a month -- Ray Emery will -- has 31 victories.
Given the eight remaining games on the schedule, the soon-to-be 26-year-old has an opportunity to surpass his rookie win total.
He hasn’t felt this playoff pressure in a long time, either.
“There’s always pressure,” Mason said. “Being in this situation now, everyone in this organization and in this dressing room believes we have a team that can make a long playoff run and there’s pressure there. At the same time, it’s fun to have that.
“I haven’t played a playoff game in this building, but watching it on TV, how intimidating a building it is for opposition teams to come into, and have that kind of fan support here is going to be huge come playoff time. If we can get home ice, that’s a step in the right direction.
Tonight is Game 10 of the Flyers' 12 very difficult games against similar playoff-bound opponents. The Flyers are 6-2-1 with 13 of a possible 18 points so far.
Flyers coach Craig Berube and many of his players have been saying recently these 12 games, tough as they have been, were exactly what the club needed to get “playoff ready.”
The Blues lost to the Dallas Stars over the weekend. Hitchcock hasn’t lost twice to the Flyers in the same season since he became head coach in St. Louis, so he is looking for payback from the 4-1 loss in Philly on March 22.
“We’ve done a great job of going up against some of the best teams in the league and coming out on top,” Mason said. “Finding ways to win hockey games that aren’t easy to win. It says a lot about the guys in this room. And the claim they have in Chief’s [Berube] system.
“To be in this position is something to be proud of but no one is going to be happy until we get into the playoffs securely and start making some noise.”
It’s entirely possible it will take until the final game of the season to determine whether the Rangers or Flyers finish second even though both should clinch a playoff spot soon.
“I think it’s going to go down to the last couple games of the regular season just to sort things out for good,” Mason said.
“We only got one point [Sunday] and [the Rangers] got two, so you are definitely doing some scoreboard watching. At the same time, we can only control what we do. The important thing is, we’ve put ourselves in this position [to get it done].”