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After a brief glimpse of playoff action in Game 3 during the final minutes of his team's 4-1 loss, Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Steve Mason will make his first start of the series against the New York Rangers in Game 4 on Friday.
Mason, who has not played a full game since suffering an upper-body injury during a regular-season game against the Pittsburgh Penguins almost two weeks ago, will replace Ray Emery in net when the Flyers aim to tie the series at two games apiece at Wells Fargo Center.
The 25-year-old Mason made an unexpected appearance on Tuesday, relieving Emery after the 31-year-old surrendered four goals to New York, but faced only three shots in just over seven minutes of ice time.
"I had been on the bench for almost 55 minutes, so it was tough to get a real feel. But it was nice to get into a little bit of a game atmosphere and close out the game," Mason told reporters in Philadelphia on Thursday. "Everything is so different in its own way. I haven't played the Rangers in a playoff series, so this is an entirely new thing for me. I'm really looking forward to it."
Mason said he is healthy and pain-free after having doubts about his recovery earlier this week. Flyers coach Craig Berube said he's "ready to go" and that he "looked good" in practice.
Though there was some initial thought that Berube might stick with Emery had the veteran back-up performed lights-out, his performance on Tuesday was underwhelming. That made the decision pretty clear for Berube for Game 4.
"He's a talented goalie and we all knew that," Berube said. "He's gotten better and better throughout the year. He's just a battler and he's come up big all year for us, you know. What more can I say?"
Friday will be Mason's first NHL playoff start since Game 4 of the Western Conference quarterfinals in 2009, when his Columbus Blue Jackets were swept by the Detroit Red Wings. It was Mason's rookie season and an experience he is eager to put in the rear-view mirror.
Mason said he has grown a "huge amount" since then.
"Not just the game in that sense. It's growing up as a person, going through a lot of difficult times and being able to come out on top, that's really just helped me mature as an individual and then as a goaltender as well," he said.
Mason, indeed, has experienced a resurgence with the Flyers, who liked enough of what they saw this season that they inked him to a three-year extension back in January.
"Ever since the trade happened, coming to this organization and working with [goaltending coach] Jeff Reese and the players around this team, it's the main reason I'm still playing hockey," Mason said.
Mason, who was 33-18-7 with a 2.50 goals against average and .917 save percentage, is also regarded as a fine puck-handler, which could give the Flyers a boost in the puck-possession game. Philadelphia has had trouble in the past activating from its own end, so Mason's skills could give them some help.
Despite the goaltending change, the Rangers vow to stick to their game plan of putting pressure on whoever is between the pipes for Philadelphia.
"We tested Emery, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "And we'll test Mason, without a doubt."