The last time the Philadelphia Flyers made the playoffs, Steve Mason played some of the best hockey of his career. Unfortunately for him and the team, the goalie could only suit up for five games against the New York Rangers in 2014.
This time he won’t have to wait two and a half games before entering the net against the Washington Capitals. This April, Mason’s completely healthy and has already been playing at a playoff level to get Philly into the postseason.
Before Mason came to Philadelphia, he spent parts of five seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets, making it to the playoffs once, in his rookie year. Things did not go well for him and the Jackets in their first playoff appearance. Mason carried a 4.27 GAA and a .878 save percentage at the hands of a four-game sweep by a veteran Detroit Red Wings team.
In Philadelphia, much like this season, the 2013-14 Flyers were a surprise to reach the playoffs after a slow start. Mason suffered an upper-body injury in the penultimate regular season game and wasn’t ready for the first two playoff games.
Mason sat on the bench for the third game, but after starter Ray Emery let up four goals, the Oakville, Ontario, native began his 2014 playoffs with just under eight minutes left in the game. Mason made three saves and began his strong playoff outing.
In Game 4, he made 37 saves on 38 shots, leading the Flyers to a 2-1 win and a 2-2 series tie. The Flyers and Rangers traded victories in the next two contests with Mason allowing only two goals in Philly’s win.
Flyers fans can remember what happened in Game 7 where the Flyers were outplayed heavily, but Mason kept them in the game with 31 saves on 33 shots. The Rangers won 2-1 and went on to the Stanley Cup Final, while the Flyers were sent packing. However, many feel the tide could have went Philadelphia’s way had Mason started the series:
Mason has been MAJOR factor since his return….If Emery had continued, Rangers would have won this by now…
— Bob Pompeani (@KDPomp) April 30, 2014
If Philly would have had Steve Mason during the entire playoffs, they would have won this series in 6. Rangers are a very lucky hockey team.
— Charlie Hodges (@CharlieHodges) May 1, 2014
Throughout the year, Mason and Michal Neuvirth almost had a platoon in net going. Both would get starts and both would earn quality wins.
However, both suffered numerous injuries throughout the year. Mason played less than 55 games for the second season in a row, while Neuvirth was in the crease for 32 of them. But the biggest injury came when Neuvirth went down with a lower-body injury at the end of March.
With a playoff push already on the way, it was clear the bulk of the workload would fall on Mason. But it seemed to motivate him rather than tire him out. The 27-year old won six of 11 games, but more impressively, only let up three goals or more in two games during that stretch.
Now Mason will face a bigger test in a Washington Capitals team led by 50-goal man Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom on offense. In three previous meetings that Mason played in this season, the Caps have two wins over the netminder.
But Mason has shown in the 2014 playoffs and the stretch run this season that when a season’s on the line, he can take his game to the next level.
Featured Image was provided by Amy Irvin