PHILADELPHIA — The protocol of the NHL postseason requires Steve Mason to stay quiet about the nature of his “upper-body injury.” So even before a Flyers’ public-relations representative began shooing reporters away from Mason’s locker after the team skated at the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday morning, Mason peeled off his pads and betrayed nothing about either his condition or the meeting he would soon have with head coach Craig Berube and goal tending coach Jeff Reese.
Every clue — subtle and overt, from how the Flyers have handled the day-to-day finessing of Mason’s practice time to his measured, non-denial denials to all questions about his health — suggests that he suffered a concussion when the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Jayson Megna knocked him to the ice on April 12.
“I’m not getting into all that,” he said before leaving. Presumably, he reserved his frankness for his sit-down with Berube and Reese, and, well, here we are. Mason emerged from that meeting as the erstwhile starting goalie, and the Flyers emerged from Tuesday night down two games to one after a 4-1 loss to the Rangers, their season in peril, their sport’s most important position once more a source of angst for them.
Only the Flyers could pull this off. Only the Flyers could tell the world that their No. 1 goaltender was 100 percent healthy again and have it blossom into controversy. Ray Emery surrendered two soft goals Tuesday, allowing a bad-angle shot to pop out of his glove and onto the stick of Derek Stepan, failing to stop a 40-foot unscreened slap shot by Dan Girardi, giving way to Mason late in the third period.
The Flyers can’t beat the Rangers and Henrik Lund qvist with nights like this, and if Berube insisted sticking with Emery for Game 3 wasn’t a difficult decision, then choosing a goalie for Friday’s Game 4 ought to be cake.
If Mason is completely healthy, he should start. This is not about his being a savior, stepping back into the lineup, and playing as if he were superhuman to rescue the Flyers in this series. This is about a course of action that only makes sense. Mason is the team’s No. 1 goaltender. He was better than Emery this season by every measure.
In fact, if Mason really is completely healthy — and Berube said less than two hours before Game 3 that he was — then he should have started Tuesday night. These are the playoffs. You play your best players when they are able to play, and even based on this series’ first two games, Berube didn’t have a close call here.
Emery was solid in the second half of Game 2, but he still allowed six goals over both contests, his save percentage an average .913. He’d been OK, but the notion that he’d somehow wrenched the starting job away from Mason is silly, no matter how much Berube praised his performance.
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