GREENBURGH, N.Y. - Every little bit helps when it comes to the Stanley Cup playoffs. And on the eve of their first postseason series against the Flyers since 1997, the Rangers received two pieces of positive news Wednesday.
Center Derick Brassard, the team's fourth-highest scorer with 45 points -- 18 on the power play -- declared himself ready to go in Game 1 tonight at the Garden after tweaking his back and limping off from practice on Tuesday.
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The other positive information was bad news for the Flyers. Philadelphia's No. 1 goaltender, Steve Mason, who won 33 games, was ruled out of Game 1 with an upper-body injury sustained in the season finale when he was knocked backward and hit his head and neck on the ice. Ray Emery, who was 9-12-2 this season, will start at the Garden.
"There's no question in my mind, I feel 100 percent for tomorrow," said Brassard, who left before the end of practice again. "Coach's decision. I could have finished. It was a precaution."
Mason is not even expected to make the trip north and his status for Sunday's Game 2 is uncertain. "I said if he were not 100 percent he would not play," Flyers coach Craig Berube told reporters. "Listen, there's injuries. Things happen. Good teams find a way to get it done."
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault, at least publicly, didn't see a benefit. "Two very good goaltenders, and we've prepared for both," he said. Emery is 7-2 lifetime against the Rangers.
Brassard, who roomed with Mason with the Blue Jackets, said: "Steve had a really good season, and Emery is a goalie who has shown in the past that he can play in the playoffs. It really doesn't matter who's in net."
But Mason won two of three games against the Blueshirts this year, allowing six goals. Emery faced 35 shots and lost, 4-1, on Jan. 12 at the Garden, where the Rangers have won eight straight against the Flyers. Emery helped the Ottawa Senators to the Cup finals against the Devils in 2007 but has been slowed by injuries since.
At the very least, Mason's absence provides an opening for the Rangers to take a lead in the best-of-seven series. The Rangers are 32-12 all-time when winning Game 1, and 21-6 when they've taken Game 1 at home.
Having Brassard, who had 12 points in 12 games in last season's playoffs, should be an asset. His line, with Mats Zuccarello and Benoit Pouliot, has been the Rangers' most effective in the last month. If he was unable to play, Vigneault would insert J.T. Miller, who was called up from the AHL on Monday, rather than disrupt the other lines.
Against the Flyers, however, the Rangers also will need to be both rugged and smart defensively. Defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who missed the last five games with an injured shoulder, is likely to be the target of heavy-hitting Flyers forwards. "I wouldn't expect it to be any different than any other player," said McDonagh, who was given the Player's Player Award by his teammates. "I'm not going to worry about it."
In his fourth year, McDonagh, who had 14 goals and will man one point on the first power- play unit, has learned the difference between the regular season and the playoffs. "There's no small play," he said. "You have to bear down all the time."