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Rangers' Derick Brassard a question for Game 1 against Flyers

Derrick Brassard looks on during practice on Tuesday,

Derrick Brassard looks on during practice on Tuesday, April 15, 2014, at the Rangers practice facility before their first-round playoff game against the Flyers on Thursday at Madison Square Garden. Photo Credit: Errol Anderson

GREENBURGH, N.Y. - Derick Brassard said several days ago that he was looking forward to facing Flyers goaltender Steve Mason -- they have been friends since they played together in Columbus -- in the first round of the playoffs.

But that might not happen in Game 1 Thursday.

Mason, who won 30 games for the Flyers, was knocked backward into the net in the regular-season finale, striking his head and neck on the ice, and is questionable for the series opener at Madison Square Garden.

And Tuesday, Brassard left the ice limping and holding his lower back about 40 minutes into the team's first postseason practice and didn't return. Brassard, who centers Mats Zuccarello and Benoit Pouliot both at even strength and on the second power-play unit, wasn't available afterward.

Coach Alain Vigneault declined to provide details on the injury, but when asked if he believed Brassard, the team's leading scorer in last season's playoffs with 12 points, would be ready for Thursday, Vigneault responded: "I would say yes."

J. T. Miller, recalled from the AHL on Monday, replaced Brassard, who has 18 goals and 45 points in 81 games, for the rest of practice.

Mason practiced for about 15 minutes and is considered day-to-day. In a text provided by Flyers public relations, Mason, who was 2-1 against the Blueshirts this season, said, "I feel better each day and we'll see how I feel tomorrow."

If he cannot go, veteran backup Ray Emery, 31, who was 9-12-2 with a 2.92 GAA and .903 save percentage this season, would start for the Flyers.

There is no goaltending question in New York. Henrik Lundqvist, who has played 67 NHL postseason games with a 2.28 GAA and .920 save percentage, is expected to start every game.

"Playing big pressure games should help a player," Vigneault said. "In Hank's case, he's been through the biggest games possible except for the Stanley Cup Finals, so he's been waiting for this moment just like the rest of our team."

Vigneault predicted: "Both teams want to get off on the right foot. If you look at all the comparisons, power play, penalty-killing, five-on-five, goaltending, there's so little separating one another. It's going to come down to good preparation and players going out and executing. We've been on a playoff push for quite some time, playing under pressure and we've responded real well in the big games, that's why we were able to get in."

It is likely the Flyers will bring a physical element to the table, as they have for years. Vigneault didn't want to discuss the Flyers' strategy, saying: "Both teams are going to play to their strengths. We have to play smart: a checking game when we don't have the puck and when we have the puck, playing fast, going north-south as quick as we can, using our skill."

New York Sports