The 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs aren't even a week old and already the postseason is littered with intriguing story lines.
One of the most interesting comes from the Eastern Conference, where the third-seeded Philadelphia Flyers have been without number one netminder Steve Mason for each of the first two games of their opening round series with the second-seeded New York Rangers. What's more, reports surfaced Monday afternoon that Mason, who was 33-18-7 with a 2.50 goals-against average and .917 save percentage during the regular season, would still not be ready for Game 3 Tuesday evening when the best-of-seven series shifts to Philadelphia.
If Steve Mason is healthy, which Flyers goaltender should start Game 4?
With that, Ray Emery, who helped the Flyers earn a split in two games at Madison Square Garden, will be called upon again tomorrow when the rivalry resumes.
The 31-year-old goaltender is no stranger to the playoffs, having now recorded 38 postseason appearances in his decade-long stint in the NHL but Emery hasn't been a team's number one netminder during the season's most critical juncture since the Anaheim Ducks were toppled in the opening round back in 2011.
Still, the veteran has acquitted himself well in Mason's absence as Philadelphia has reclaimed home ice advantage heading into tomorrow's opener at the Wells Fargo Center.
Here's a deeper analysis of Emery's performance so far.
Game 1 - 4-1 Loss @ NY Rangers, Emery: 4 goals against, 32 saves on 36 shots
Game 1 Grade for Ray Emery: C-
As a whole, the Flyers were awful in the series opener. Despite landing the game's opening goal for the first time in nine trips to Madison Square Garden, Philly couldn't maintain its composure and allowed New York to pull away in the final frame.
Making his first playoff start in three years, Emery appeared to fight the puck early.
A Rick Nash wrist shot from the left circle less than two minutes in was swallowed up by the veteran goaltender, but a lack of confidence or uncertainty as to the puck's location forced Emery to take a concerning peek behind him. He struggled to catch pucks cleanly, while his rebound control produced far too many second chance opportunities.
The Rangers grabbed their opening goal of the series off a rebound (and missed defensive assignment) atop the goal crease while the Blue Shirts put Game 1 away with a rebound conversion at the left side of the cage by Carl Hagelin.
Sandwiched in-between were a pair of power play conversions for which it's hard to fault Emery.
The first was a puck that pinballed to the right circle and was promptly hammered home by Brad Richards, while the second was a result of precision passing before a back door tap in for Derek Stepan. Yes, Mason's superior post-to-post quickness would have put a little added pressure on the Rangers to convert both opportunities, but the reality is neither conversion was the fault of the netminder.
But despite four goals against, Emery still gave his team a chance to win Game 1.
The cagey veteran turned aside 13 of New York's 14 attempts in the opening period and helped author a 1-1 tie heading into the third period after 22 saves on 23 total shots. It wasn't Emery's fault the Flyers took 10 minutes in penalties in the final period and were out shot 13-1.
Game 2 - 4-2 Win @ NY Rangers, Emery: 2 goals against, 31 saves on 33 shots
Game 2 Grade for Ray Emery: A-
The series' second outing didn't start much better for the Orange and Black, or for Emery.
A neutral zone turnover less than five minutes into the contest quickly turned into a three-on-two for the Rangers, which culminated with a Martin St. Louis one-time scorcher from the right circle. Once again, New York had capitalized on Philadelphia's mistake and, once again, the Blue Shirts were able to expose the decreased post-to-post flexibility of Emery versus Mason.
The Rangers doubled their pleasure a little over four minutes later, when Benoit Pouliot scored from almost the identical location with a change up shot on the power play. New York was in the driver's seat and it appeared the Rangers were on their way to their 10th consecutive victory at home over their division rivals.
But the Flyers gathered themselves and netted four unanswered goals, while Emery blanked New York over the final 51 minutes and change en route to a Game 2 victory and an even series.
It certainly wasn't a walk-in-the-park 51-minute blanking for the veteran goaltender though.
After just seven saves on nine shots in the first, Emery orchestrated 17 denials in the middle stanza. He managed his rebounds, showed confidence by challenging shooters atop the goal crease and executed a quality lateral save at the right post against St. Louis less than a minute before the Flyers netted the eventual game-winner.
But Emery's best work came once Philadelphia had the lead.
Just over three minutes after Luke Schenn put the Flyers in front, Braydon Coburn's attempted outlet pass from behind his goal was intercepted by Rick Nash in the slot leading to a point blank opportunity for one of the game's true snipers. Not only did Emery turn aside Nash's attempt but he had the answer to John Moore's follow up at the right side of the net as well.
The momentum of Game 2—and possibly the entire series—could have shifted if the Rangers had converted that Philadelphia miscue. Instead, Razor preserved his perfect period and the Flyers advantage.
Emery wasn't tested as persistently in the third period but had the answer to all seven of New York's attempts in the final frame.
All told, the 31-year-old netminder registered 31 saves and a .939 save percentage before being named the game's first star. Not only did the victory snap Philly's nine-game losing streak at Madison Square Garden, but it was Emery's first postseason triumph since April 20, 2011.