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Wednesday Night Rivalry

Mason enjoying heavy workload for Flyers

Goaltender thriving with Philadelphia in thick of playoff chase

by Adam Kimelman @NHLAdamK / Deputy Managing Editor

Credit for the recent strong play of Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Steve Mason can be given to a lot of people.

One of them is Olivia Pope.

The political fixer portrayed by Kerry Washington in the ABC drama "Scandal" has, as much as anyone else, helped Mason play some of the best hockey of his career. That strong play in goal has helped the Flyers enter their game Wednesday against the Detroit Red Wings (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVA Sports) holding the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference.

Wednesday will mark Mason's 10th straight start, and 15th in the past 16 games.

"It would be a lot more difficult if we weren't in the playoff race," Mason said. "When you're playing for something meaningful it's a lot easier."

It's the busiest Mason has been since he started the first 10 games of the 2010-11 season with the Columbus Blue Jackets, but he has held up, and thrived, with the heavy workload.

"He's our MVP right now," defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said. "He's the backbone of our team."

Said Flyers captain Claude Giroux: "It looks like he's betting better every game, if that's possible."

The numbers back up Giroux's claim. Since March 5, Mason is 9-2-3 with a 2.10 goals-against average and .928 save percentage in 14 games. He has more wins than any goalie in that stretch, and of the 20 goaltenders to play at least 10 games in that span, he's third in GAA and save percentage.

Mason has found that practice time is a premium, and rest is key -- physically and mentally.

And that's where Ms. Pope comes into play.

"I think the mental part is more important than the physical aspect," Mason said. "For a goaltender in particular, you've got 60 minutes to focus on non-stop. You play back-to-back games, on the back-to-back it's a lot more mental than it is physical to refocus and be sharp for another 60 minutes. I think as much time as we get away from the rink, you have to utilize it to refresh.

"I get into some TV shows. … When it's on I love 'Suits.' Still pay attention to 'The Walking Dead.' Really enjoy 'Scandal.' We [Mason and his fiancée] are into a bunch of shows and we do as much as we can to keep it light."

Video: PHI@PIT: Mason makes pad saves on Hornqvist, Daley

Mason had a strong season in 2014-15, including a .940 save percentage at even strength that was second in the NHL. But he hadn't found that same form through the first three-quarters of 2015-16, going 13-15-7 with a 2.70 GAA and .915 save percentage in his first 37 games, and there was debate over who would get more meaningful starts down the stretch, Mason or Michal Neuvirth.

But Mason's turnaround began when the calendar flipped to March, and he has been even better since Neuvirth sustained a lower-body injury March 16 that is expected to keep him out at least through the end of the regular season.

"When [Neuvirth] went down, there was 11 or 12 games to be played in a short amount of time," Mason said. "I told myself not to get ahead of myself looking at future opportunities. I wanted to take one day at a time, one practice at a time and eventually one game at a time.

"That's just kind of the way I try to break everything down. I break my games down to segments in terms of three sets per period. I try to simplify things as much as possible to not get overwhelmed by the task at hand. So far I think we're doing a pretty good job."

The Flyers' final 13 games were scheduled in a 23-day span, including four sets of back-to-back games. Wednesday starts a four-game-in-five-day stretch to close the regular season.

Mason was in a similar play-every-day situation as a rookie in 2007-08, starting 45 of the final 49 games as the Blue Jackets clinched their first playoff berth.

But he was 20 years old then. Now that he's 27, he knows he has to pace himself differently.

Video: OTT@PHI: Mason stops Hoffman's breakaway attempt

To that end, Mason and goaltending coach Kim Dillabaugh have focused on quality over quantity when it comes to ice time.

"That's something that [Dillabaugh] is stressing on me because I tend to do too much out there and get drained out," Mason said. "He just harps on me that it's not the quantity but the quality. We just try to do it short and crisp, and so far I think we've done a good job of managing the energy level."

Games, however, are a different story. Teammates say Mason can lose 10-15 pounds after games.

"I think he's got more IV's than anyone here," Gostisbehere said.

Mason wouldn't comment on how many or how frequently he gets IV treatment, but he did have a bandage on the inside of his left elbow after the Flyers' 3-2 defeat of the Ottawa Senators on Saturday.

If anything, though, they've become a badge of honor as the Flyers push to return to the postseason.

"It's that time of year," Mason said. "It's fun to be a part of it when you're in the playoff picture."

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