The tipping point is starting to show: Certainty versus uncertainty.
As expected before the Eastern Conference quarterfinals between the Rangers and Flyers, one decided edge that the Rangers had was in goaltending stability.
In the first three games, veteran goaltender Ray Emery, pressed into service because of an upper-body injury to Steve Mason, faced 89 Rangers shots and stopped 79 for a .888 save percentage, which is triggering Mason's return in Game 4 tomorrow night.
The Rangers, who did not practice Wednesday, are up 2-1 in the best-of-seven series, and playoff-tested Henrik Lundqvist, who has stopped 66 of 71 shots (.930), isn't going anywhere. Lundqvist has started 69 straight Rangers playoff games, dating to April 26, 2006.
With the Flyers hosting a pivotal Game 4 at Wells Fargo Center, they are relying on Mason, who won 33 games this season but hasn't started since April 12, when he sustained an upper-body injury in a collision with Pittsburgh's Jayson Megna with 3:33 left in the second period.
Mason, who has been out for almost two weeks, has not started a postseason game since 2009. As a rookie, Mason was in the net for the Columbus Blue Jackets when they were swept by the Red Wings, and allowed 17 goals in four games.
Mason replaced Emery for the final 7:15 of Tuesday's game and stopped all three shots he faced. He said he's ready to go after taking part in an optional practice Wednesday.
"I feel fine," Mason said. "It's been a steady progression."
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault fully expects Mason, who won both regular-season games against the Rangers in Philadelphia, to be back.
"We're going to see another goaltender," Vigneault said Wednesday on a conference call. "We're going to have a plan for that."
Game 4 is critical for the Flyers because the schedule is not kind: Games 5, 6 and 7, if the last two are necessary, would be played in four nights, so it was not surprising that captain Claude Giroux defiantly predicted postgame that the Flyers would win Friday and tie the series.
"What Giroux said is totally expected," Vigneault said. "They expect to go into the next game and win; I'm sure our guys feel the same way, that's part of competitive nature. I can't foresee any one of our players not stepping on the ice anytime and not thinking they can win."
Notes & quotes: Although he was unhappy with Benoit Pouliot's penalties that negated two first-period power plays for the Rangers, Vigneault said he didn't bench him because "you have to trust your players . . . I know Benny's intentions were good, he felt [Andrew] MacDonald had taken a dive on both occasions and felt he didn't get a fair shake . . . There was still a lot of hockey to be played, and I felt that the way Ben had been playing for us for a long stretch of time that he deserved an opportunity to redeem himself." . . . Matt Read was not disciplined or fined for the non-penalized shoulder to the head that dazed Dan Carcillo in Game 3.