VOORHEES, N.J. – Steve Mason remembers the last time he was part of a successful playoff push – probably because it was the only one of his career in Columbus.
It was his rookie season, one in which Mason would eventually be awarded the Calder Trophy as the rookie of the year in the NHL.
The Blue Jackets, a fledgling franchise who had never reached the postseason, found themselves in an interesting position in mid-February.
Through 59 games, their record was 30-23-6 for 66 points. They made the playoffs with Mason playing almost every game down the stretch for the Jackets.
This year’s Flyers are 30-23-6 for 66 points after 59 games. There’s no doubt Mason feels the same regular season result can happen for this team as did those Jackets.
|Steve Mason is looking forward to playing in games that matter again for the first time in five seasons. |
“It was definitely a grind down the stretch with a lot of must-win games and it’ll be familiar this season. It’s how the whole season’s been really. We put ourselves in this position with a crappy start and fought our way back, but this is where the real work begins. It’s going to be a real battle for the last couple playoff spots and at the same time we’re going to try to move up the standings to get an even better spot. These are the most important games of the year.”
When faced with the pressure with Columbus, Mason was just 20-years-old and didn’t have a great team in front of him. By comparison, the crop of talent in front of him with the Flyers is light years ahead of that Columbus squad.
And Mason wasn’t lights out that season, but he didn’t have to be. He was good enough. The Jackets went 11-8-4 in their final 23 games and clinched a playoff spot with a few games to spare. Mason started 22 of those 23 games. He went 10-8-4 with a 2.68 goals against average and a .902 save percentage with three shutouts.
Conversely, this version of Mason, who is older and wiser five years later, has better numbers already, with a 2.58 goals against average and a .918 save percentage.
Plus, with the Flyers having a favorable home schedule, matching that Blue Jackets feat seems imminently possible.
Because Mason thinks it’s enjoyable to play in pressure-packed games.
“It was fun,” he said. “Any time you can be involved in meaningful hockey games it’s great. My last few years, I’ve pretty much been out of contention a bit early in the season. That first year, going down the stretch was a lot of fun. It’s why we play the game as professional athletes. This is where we have to tighten up our game and continue to play well. It’ll be a good ride.”
Mason is preparing himself with more intense practices with goalie coach Jeff Reese. The duo spent time watching the Olympics and picking up on little things that some of the goalies who performed best were doing.
Both mentioned paying close attention to Tuukka Rask of Finland, Jonathan Quick of the USA and Carey Price of Canada.
“The goaltending was tremendous,” Reese said. “We were both watching and there’s always little things you can see and watch and pick up – like the way Rask moves around the net – Quick the same thing – it was just tremendous.
Reese is hoping Mason can replicate that to some degree over the final 23 games and get the Flyers back into the playoffs.
“It’s going to be day-by-day,” Mason said. There’s going to be a lot of games here that determine who makes the playoffs and who misses them by just a hair. The only way to not get overwhelmed by it is to take it day-by-day and not look too far ahead.”
NOTES: Reese said he also talked to goalie prospect Anthony Stolarz in the same way that he talked to Mason about the Olympics. Stolarz, who has missed significant time with a nasty skate cut to the back of his leg, is back at practice and is close to returning to action for the London Knights of the OHL… Jake Voracek made a cameo appearance in a movie in the Czech Republic that was filmed last summer. It was released last week. He said it was a comedy and that a copy was being sent to him. We’ll update you when we get a title… General manager Paul Holmgren told reporters not to expect any big moves at the trade deadline. He said he likes the Flyers team and would look to improve it only if something made sense…. The Flyers will not skate Tuesday, although Kimmo Timonen is expected to return to the practice facility for the first time since returning home from Sochi where he won a bronze medal.
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