VOORHEES — A tag-team goalie tandem helped the Philadelphia Flyers reach the Stanley Cup Finals four years ago. They hope it gets them through the first round this spring.
Steve Mason will start tonight when the Flyers host the New York Rangers in Game 4 of their first-round playoff series. The Rangers lead the best-of-seven Eastern Conference series 2-1.
Ray Emery started the first three games for Mason, who sustained an upper-body injury on April 12. Mason played the final 7 minutes, 15 seconds in a 4-1 loss Tuesday night, stopping all three shots he faced.
“I felt really sharp, especially on the power play stuff there,” Mason said after Thursday’s practice. “I was moving well, seeing the pucks through screens. If that’s a gauge, I feel pretty good.”
The Flyers rode the combination of Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton to the finals in 2010 before losing to Chicago in six games. Boucher started the first 10 games, but was replaced by Leighton after getting injured during Philadelphia’s comeback from a 3-0 series deficit against Boston in the second round. Boucher and Leighton played against the Blackhawks.
“I know they were going through different injuries, but I don’t know if guys were playing up to par,” Mason said, referring to the Boucher-Leighton tandem. “We don’t really focus on what’s happened in the past.”
Mason hasn’t started a playoff game in five years since his rookie season with Columbus. The Blue Jackets were swept by Detroit in that series, so Mason is still looking for his first playoff win.
He could help the Flyers with more than just his performance in goal. Mason is a skilled stickhandler and he can get the offense going on breakouts.
“You look at ways that you can help out your defensemen,” he 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.”
The Rangers will be ready for him. They jumped on Emery for a 2-0 first-period lead in the past two games. The Flyers rallied for a 4-2 win in Game 2, but couldn’t solve New York’s strong defense in Game 3.
“We went through the same preparation on Mason as we went through with Emery,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “We know what to expect from him, and we know the areas that we need to go after him. We tested Emery, and we’re going to try to test Mason, no doubt.”
The Rangers have no questions about their goaltending. Henrik Lundqvist, an eight-time All-Star and 2012 Vezina Trophy winner, has stopped 66 of 71 shots he’s faced. There are plenty of shots that haven’t reached him because of an impenetrable defense in front of him. The Rangers have blocked 57 shots, including 28 in Game 3.
“We know they are going to come hard, so we have to be prepared for that,” Lundqvist said. “We have to be focused and play a smart game.”
Avoiding penalties is important for both teams, although the Flyers have struggled on the power play at home. They were 0 for 5 in Game 3.
“We’re going to have to be a lot better than we were, a lot more disciplined. That’s our focus,” New York’s Brad Richards said.
The Flyers worked on ways to improve their power play at practice. Claude Giroux, who has only two shots, handled the puck less while Jakub Voracek was the playmaker. His role will be finding ways to get Giroux more shots.
“We have to come up with something different, something new,” Voracek said. “Be sure to move the puck around and do it quicker.”