THEY ARE HIM and he is them: that is the lesson of Ray Emery and the Flyers and the playoffs that are suddenly upon them. There are exceptions, yes, because the perfectly tidy narrative does not exist in hockey - except the one about the Flyers always having a goaltending issue in the playoffs. Oh, wait.
Regardless, if you look back on the season, Emery's play seems to be largely a function of the play in front of him - not always, but more than with Steve Mason, the regular starter. And now that it has been decided that the super-secret upper-body malady suffered by Mason will keep him out of at least Game 1 of the opening- round series against the Rangers, this thought process will be tested (along with four lines and three pairs of defensemen).
That is, that while Emery cannot win the series, the Flyers still can.
"I don't think our team feels like it's a blow at all," Flyers coach Craig Berube said yesterday, knocking down a question. "I totally disagree. Listen: There's injuries. Things happen, like I said. You're not always 100 percent. Good teams find a way to get it done."
Asked if he felt the need to emphasize that thought with the team, Berube said, "They know. Like I said, we're a team. Things happen sometimes. You have to fight through it. You have to fight through adversity. You've got to deal with it."
History - specifically, the Flyers' goaltending playoff history - offers this latest bit of news as an easy punchline. Just when they thought they had the goaltending thing headed in the right direction with the development of Mason this season, he gets run over in Game 81 against Pittsburgh and now, this. Mason did not practice yesterday and Berube said he would not even travel with the team to New York.
But Emery at least offers an intriguing pedigree. He has been to the Stanley Cup final with Ottawa in 2007. He has been an injury replacement in the playoffs a couple of times, too - when Dominik Hasek got hurt in 2006 in Ottawa, and Jonas Hiller was out with vertigo in Anaheim in 2011. He is 31 years old - and if he gives away some mobility at this point, he also adds a pretty level personality at a pretty stressful time.
As he said, "I take everything as a learning experience. You learn from successes. You learn from failures as well. I've had a lot of both."
But back to the theory - that Emery will play to the level of the effort in front of him. That is true for most goalies, yes. But in the case of Mason, especially early in the season, there was a disconnect. Mason played great for many weeks before the New Year while the team struggled to implement Berube's system. Mason also went into a bit of a lull personally as the team that Berube envisioned began to emerge.
Emery, not as much. There was no disconnect. You can argue chicken-and-egg, and which came first, but Emery had a .952 save percentage in the nine games the Flyers won when he played and faced 26.5 shots per 60 minutes. In the 19 games when he played and the team lost, Emery had a .882 save percentage and faced 32.6 shots per 60 minutes.
Mason's numbers were not nearly as different between wins and losses - not in save percentage or shots faced. Maybe it is the larger sample size for Mason that smoothes out the differences. Maybe none of this matters - Emery did play very well in a couple of games down the stretch that ended up being losses, including against St. Louis and Los Angeles. Besides, there is a body of opinion that trying to predict goalie performance in the playoffs is a waste of time.
There is just this sense about Emery, and maybe it is nothing more than a sense, that he will hold up his end if the players around him do the same; that while he will not steal games for the Flyers, he will not gift wrap them for the Rangers, either.
"You're always trying to be prepared," he said. "Trying to stay healthy and ready and fill in when needed was mainly my goal this year. If I get a chance to play, I'm excited about it and think I can do well."
His history against the Rangers is more than solid: 7-2 record, 1.87 goals-against average, .936 save percentage. That history also is likely meaningless. Emery's one game against the Rangers this season was not as good, a 4-1 loss in January at Madison Square Garden. About that one, he said, "It wasn't the best game for the boys and myself."
Which really is the point. The Flyers have an advantage up front in this series, and especially at center. They have a nice shutdown piece in center Sean Couturier and they have those seven 20-goal scorers. The Rangers have the best defenseman in the series in Ryan McDonagh, but you can make the argument (at least mildly) that the Flyers might just have the deeper defense overall.
The Flyers are underdogs, and that is fair, but this still is doable for them. They pride themselves on balance and now is their chance to demonstrate it. It is their imperative, especially now. Or, as Emery said, "It's definitely a team effort when you're talking about the Flyers. We're confident that we can win a series."