Mason to return to practice, may start Sunday

@mason injury

By David Strehle (@DStrehleTFP)

This isn’t the way that Steve Mason had imagined his first postseason with the Philadelphia Flyers. As his teammates readied themselves for Game 1 of their Metropolitan Division Semifinal against the New York Rangers, the goaltender was relegated to being an observer.

“Very frustrating,” he said after skating Friday at Chelsea Piers in New York City. “This is a time that you’ve worked all season to get to, and to see the team go out there and a playoff atmosphere in Madison Square Garden where the stakes are so high, that’s something you don’t want to be sitting out and watching. It was difficult, especially with the result.”

While what he did Friday didn’t quantify as a full practice, he did take some shots from teammates and tracked the puck.

“Just drilling and practice,” Mason said. “We were doing skating drills, but it’s also, like you said, tracking. We did a lot of outside shots, it’s all just feel-good goalie stuff more than anything. It’s not really a practice for the skaters out there.”

“I haven’t skated a whole lot in the last few days, so to get out there and have a controlled setting and kind of just get back to basics and have a good goalie practice.”

Mason had indeed earned his spot in the Philly crease for when the playoffs began. He matched his career-best total of 33 wins, posted a 2.50 goals-against average and .917 save percentage, while recording four shutouts to lead the Flyers back into the postseason after missing out altogether last year.

This was to be Mason’s first postseason game since his rookie year, when he won the Calder Trophy and led the Columbus Blue Jackets to their first-ever playoff berth.

The reason Mason was forced to miss the playoff opener with the Rangers — as well as Sunday’s regular season finale — was a violent collision against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Saturday’s contest. As Mason made a save late in the second period, Pittsburgh forward Jayson Megna drove Flyers’ defender Andrew MacDonald squarely into the prone Philadelphia goaltender.

“I made a save on (Sidney) Crosby coming down my right-hand side”, Mason recounted, “the rebound kicked to my left and was just looking to try and get a stick on it and Mac (MacDonald) was kind of in a helpless position when he got pushed into me.”

The impact sent Mason back into his own net, snapping his head back in a whiplash-type fashion and hitting his head on the ice. That’s worrisome, since Mason says he’s had two prior concussions.

Mason remained in the game for the rest of the period, but Ray Emery came out to play the third.

With his desire to return at a high level, the goalie says the Flyers have done a good job of keeping the situation under control.

“I think the team’s done a great job of that for me,” Mason said. “As a player, you’re going to probably say you’re ready to go back before you actually are, just because you have that competitive nature.”

That is something the play of Emery helped to diffuse for Mason.

“I think for myself watching Ray last night, I think he played a great game,” he said, “so that kind of eases the feel of urgency in a sense because he was so strong. We’re just going to take this day-by-day and if I’m ready to go Sunday, then I’m ready to go. If not, Ray was definitely not the reason we came out on the losing end.”

And he’s right about that. Emery finished with 32 saves, keeping Philly in a game that appeared to start slipping away shortly after MacDonald had given them a lead in the first period.

While head coach Craig Berube will still have a decision to make regarding which goaltender he’ll go with on Easter Sunday at noon, there’s no doubting Mason’s anticipation-level.

“Yeah, especially getting into Sunday’s game potentially, and then going back to the Wells Fargo Center, where by all accounts is probably one of the best playoff atmospheres in the league,” Mason said. “So that’s something as a player, you look forward to. I know the guys in the dressing room are looking forward to winning on Sunday and getting back home and going from there.”

The 25-year-old Oakville, Ontario-native said he’s ready to get back on the ice on Saturday.

“I’ll be practicing tomorrow, as far as I know,” he said after Friday’s skate.

And will he be available to Berube for Game 2 on Sunday?

“I’ll try my best,” Mason said.

Despite which backstop ends up between the pipes, Philadelphia will have to play much better as a team than they did in Game 1. The Rangers’ domination that has been so prevalent in the Flyers’ last nine trips to Madison Square Garden was on full display, especially in a third period with the game tied at 1-1 when Philadelphia was outshot, 13-1.

The Flyers have not scored more than two goals in any one of the last nine contests at MSG, and they’ve been outscored 35-10 during that stretch.

“I think everybody expects a much better game on Sunday,” Mason said. “I don’t think anybody was happy with the way that the team played.”

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