VOORHEES, N.J. – Steve Mason was easily the Flyers best player in their seven-game First Round loss to the New York Rangers – and that was despite only playing four games.
Yet, it was enough for everyone to watch and realize why Mason, despite sometimes pedestrian numbers in the regular season, will be their go to goaltender for the next three seasons at least, as part of his contract extension.
At 26, Mason is hitting his prime as a goalie, and what many teams have deemed a weakness of his – his glove hand – proved to be an outright strength in the playoffs.
His regular season numbers were O.K. – a 2.50 goals against average and a .917 save percentage have him right in the middle of the pack of goalies who played in more than half their team’s games.
But in the playoffs, he saw those numbers improve vastly.
Sure, it was just four games but when your goalie posts a 1.97 GAA and a .939 save percentage in the playoffs – second-best to this point behind Boston’s Tuukka Rask by the way – it says something about how he handles a more intense spotlight.
And yet, he feels he can be even better.
Which is why Mason is going to focus on a more intense training regiment this summer in anticipation of a 2014-15 season for the Flyers that will certainly be looked upon by many with high expectations.
And Mason, who now knows for certain what is expected of him in Philadelphia as a starting goaltender, feels that he is up for that challenge the second time around after he struggled to meet lofty goals in Columbus following his Calder Trophy-winning rookie season.
“I’m six years older now, so aside from the hockey aspect, I think I’m more of a mature person,” he said. “When you go through difficult times in your life and you’re able to come out on top, you become thankful for things that you have.
“I said, I think it was halfway through the year, when I signed an extension here that I was very grateful to have a second opportunity to have an NHL career and knowing that feeling that you had when things weren’t going your way, now that things are finally having some positives, it’s a feeling that you don’t want to lose and you’d do anything you can to prevent that from happening.”
And Mason doesn’t mind the added pressure of playing in Philadelphia – unlike some goalies of the recent past.
“I’ve said it before, I’ve just had and unbelievable time playing in front of the fans here,” he said. [Ilya Bryzgalov] was a different person than I am. This is a tough spot to play, because there’s pressure all night from the fans who just want to see a hard-working team, hard-working individuals and for myself that makes it easy to get up for the games.
“When you’re going to the rink every night and you know it’s going to be sold out with passionate fans, as a hockey player that’s something that you want to have around as an environment. In Columbus, things were a little bit different. They didn’t have sold out buildings every night, whereas you come here and the place is jammed packed. It was fun to have that kind of pressure every single night.”
Mason feeds off pressure – which is definitely different from his Columbus days. Now, he wants to be the guy. He wants to be between the pipes no matter what – which is also why things were a bit hectic with his return from a concussion at the start of the playoffs.
Mason wanted to play. He wanted to play Game 1. He wanted to play Game 2. Heck, he wanted to start Game 3. Yet, each time, the Flyers forced him to stay out because he was still experiencing concussion-related symptoms.
“I was never slated to play Game 3 and I still could’ve gotten better,” Mason said. “I was at the point where I didn’t have headaches. Concussions are a weird thing, you have headaches some days, some days you don’t, so when I was backing up, I felt fine after morning skate so I had no problem backing up. Then the next day I woke up and had a headache and finally the morning of Game 4 I had some work done and haven’t had a problem since. Concussions are a different situation for every individual so it was a pretty unique situation.”
The work Mason had done was acupuncture in his neck and head. He claimed getting little needles in his head was a weird experience, but it seemed to work, because he’s been symptom free since.
Nevertheless, it’s going to be something the Flyers keep tabs on over the next few months, just to make sure symptoms do not return.
“We’ve had players that have had concussions who have had to move on and not play, and we’ve had players that have had concussions who have come back and not had any issues,” Holmgren said. “Steve’s was from the game in Pittsburgh… he finished the period when that happened. He came in, he had some issues, so we followed the protocol [and] continued to follow the protocol for the next couple days. He passed all his tests, and then we kept him out because it was more of a neck issue that he was dealing with.
“We felt he was fully cleared to play and fine to play. I believe he played quite well. We’ll continue to monitor it next year… when all our players come to training camp, they do their baseline test again at the start of a new year. As a league, we continue to look for ways to make it safer for our players in all aspects.”
And when Mason returns to training camp, it’s likely he’ll have a changed team in front of him. There are a lot of question marks and also some upgrades that need to be made. Regardless, he’s going to have himself ready to go and more so ready to play beyond the month of April for the first time in his career.
“Going into last summer, the situation was different,” Mason said. “I was coming into this season with a lot to prove and now going into this summer, it’s probably a little bit of the same feeling, I have to prove it all over again. That’s the nice thing about sports, there’s always something to play for when you don’t win in the playoffs there’s a lot to still prove to everybody else. I think going into this summertime there’s a lot to work toward and coming into the next season to get even better. “
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @InsideTheFlyers
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