STEVE MASON surprisingly returned to the Flyers' bench last night, less than 24 hours after completely ruling himself out of Game 3 - even as a backup.
Mason stood up periodically to stretch in the tunnel leading to the Flyers' dressing room, in uniform for his first Stanley Cup playoff game since April 23, 2009.
The stretching turned out to be useful. Mason was summoned from the bench for the final 7 minutes, 15 seconds last night, once the game was firmly in hand for New York. It was a test from coach Craig Berube to see how Mason's body would react.
All of which begged the question: If Mason was healthy enough to sit on the bench and then enter the game late, why was he not healthy enough to start?
"Ray won Game 2 and Ray has played well," Berube said pregame. "We made a decision after practice and he'll back up. He feels better. He's ready and he wants to get in there and be the backup. So we talked and made the decision."
Since Mason was run over in Game 81 against Pittsburgh on April 12, the Flyers have revealed nothing more than that Mason suffered an "upper-body" injury - although Mason himself hinted at concussion-like symptoms in his comments.
That does not bother NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who said before last night's game that hockey has no plans to try to mimic the NFL with regard to the public's knowledge of injuries.
"I don't know what he has," Bettman said. "So don't use what I'm about to say as speculation, but the fact of the matter is, if he's had a concussion, it's been diagnosed, and obviously he's not [been] playing.
"Telling the world what a player's injury is, I'm not sure that our teams and our players would be comfortable with that, because this is a very physical game. Putting aside concussions, our players will play injured if they can, and they want to make sure they're not vulnerable in that regard."
Bettman visited the Wells Fargo Center last night on his whirlwind tour through each of the Stanley Cup playoff stops. In a wide-ranging news conference with reporters, he touched on a number of issues:
* The updated salary-cap projection for next season is somewhere between $69 million and $70 million, down from an original estimate in November of $71.1 million. The reason for that is fluctuations with the Canadian dollar compared with the American dollar.
"Revenues are strong," Bettman said. "The Canadian dollar has an impact, because we have seven clubs that earn their revenues in Canadian dollars. We have a national TV contract that's in Canadian dollars.
"The system is designed to deal with the fluctuations in the Canadian dollar because of hockey-related revenue, which is used to compute the salary cap, [which] is done in U.S. dollars. So, if the Canadian dollar goes down, the cap isn't as high. It's premature. We don't have all the data; we don't have all the reports from the clubs yet."
This year's salary cap is $64.3 million, down from $70 million during the 2012-13 lockout-shortened year. The Flyers already have $64.5 million committed to 17 players for next season, not including free agents Brayden Schenn, Jason Akeson and Tye McGinn (restricted), and Ray Emery, Kimmo Timonen, Steve Downie and Adam Hall (unrestricted).
* Bettman said he hopes to announce Washington's opponent for the 2015 Winter Classic in "a few weeks." The Capitals will host the game, with the Flyers being speculated as a possible opponent. The game could be hosted at Nationals Park or FedEx Field.
* Bettman also noted local television ratings are up during the Stanley Cup playoffs, which he thinks is a benefit of the league's realignment process and divisional playoff setup. He said no owners have complained about the playoff structure, with an unbalanced 14 teams in the Western Conference and 16 in the Eastern Conference.
"Unless you're really hung up on symmetry, I don't think it makes that much of a difference," Bettman said. "When you get down to the bottom, whether or not there's an extra team or two, I don't think that really affects it, because everybody's roughly playing the same type of schedule."
* Stephane Quintal took over for Brendan Shanahan as the NHL's head disciplinarian on April 11, when Shanahan left to become president of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Bettman said Quintal could be in the discussion for the permanent job.
Bettman said Quintal is working alongside deputy commissioner Bill Daly in the discipline process, as well as leaning on the other staffers Shanahan put in place in the Department of Player Safety, including former Flyers scout Patrick Burke.
"He's one of the people that will be considered, if he's interested in the job," Bettman said. "Let's see how he feels in 2 months. It's not, as we know, one of the easier jobs . . . so depending on how thick your skin is will depend on whether or not you're interested long term."
* Bettman had no news regarding NHL expansion or even the Islanders' search for a new owner. He said he does not think New York can break its lease with Nassau County to move into the Barclays Center in Brooklyn for next season.
"Much like the Islanders' owner, we get lots of expressions of interest - whether it's from Quebec City, Seattle, Las Vegas or Kansas City," Bettman said. "We're listening, but we haven't enacted a formal process to begin considering expansion."