The Philadelphia Flyers lost their starting goaltender on the eve of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Steve Mason was injured last Saturday against the Pittsburgh Penguins when forward Jayson Megna shoved Flyers defenseman Andrew MacDonald into his own goalie. On the play, Mason's head and neck snapped back.
It is likely Mason sustained a concussion or is suffering from concussion-like symptoms. The Flyers refuse to confirm the exact nature of his injuries.
"I don't feel I need to divulge," Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren explained to Dave Isaac of The South Jersey Courier-Post. "We're at a critical time in our season right now. I don't feel the need to divulge what's wrong with a player. He's gonna play or not. That's what's gonna tell you."
In Mason's absence, veteran Ray Emery got the start in Game 1 for the Flyers when they traveled to Madison Square Garden to face the New York Rangers. Rookie Cal Heeter, who has exactly one game of NHL experience, served as Emery's backup.
If you examine each goalie's statistics this season, Emery is a big step back from Mason. Mason went 33-18-7 while Emery was below .500 at 9-12-2. Emery had a better GAA (2.50 to 2.96) and a better save percentage (.917 to .903).
But Emery does have two advantages over Mason. First, he has a lot more playoff experience. Mason has played in exactly four playoff games over the course of his NHL career and has yet to win a postseason game.
Emery, on the other hand, has played in 36 playoff games and has a 20-15 record. He also helped lead the Ottawa Senators to the Stanley Cup Final back in 2007 and was a member of last year's Chicago Blackhawks team that won a championship.
In addition, Emery has had a lot of success against the Rangers during his career. Emery is 7-2 against New York with an impressive 1.87 GAA and .936 save percentage.
This year, however, in one game, Emery lost his only game against the Rangers by a 4-1 score.
Because of his experience, Emery is taking his surprise start in stride. "I take everything as a learning experience," Emery told Sarah Baicker of CSNPhilly.com. "You learn from successes, you learn from failures as well. I’ve had a lot of both. I get excited to play in these situations. Especially playoffs, especially in a group like this."
The Flyers seem to be confident regardless of which goalie starts Thursday night. "Mase or Razor, I think we have a lot of confidence in them," Giroux told Baicker. "They’ve played some big games for us this year. Obviously, Razor has some experience in the playoffs. He’s won a Cup. For him to bring that experience, it’s good."
Another difference between Mason and Emery is Mason catches with his right hand, while Emery wears his glove on his left. For the Rangers, it will be like shooting at a mirror image of Mason if Emery is between the pipes.
Regardless of who plays in net, the Flyers need to receive solid goaltending and play a responsible form of team defense in front of their netminder.
"Things happen," Philadelphia head coach Craig Berube told Baicker. "Good teams find a way to get it done."
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