EDMONTON - Steve Mason fell on the sword again.
One day after he was embarrassed in front of 19,289 in Calgary and a few hundred thousand more watching on television for being pulled after allowing a goal he couldn't even see, the Flyers goalie answered questions with diplomacy that could make him a fine Canadian ambassador after hockey.
"I don't take it that way," Mason said, when asked if his yanking was a personal shot. "As a professional, you've got to take things with a grain of salt sometimes and work hard. Today is a new day. There's a lot worse things that could happen to me other than being pulled in a hockey game."
Well, what about when coach Craig Berube said you need to work harder to fight through screens?
"As a goaltender, you do," Mason said. "Unfortunately, there was a screen that I couldn't see the puck [on Thursday] night that resulted in the goal. At the end of the day, when the team's not having success, everybody's got to be better, including myself."
Doesn't Berube know that you were just about the only reason your team had a chance to pull within two points of a playoff spot 2 weeks ago?
"It's a sport at the end of the day," Mason said. "Everybody has a job at stake here and we just try to do things to win hockey games. There's no animosity or anything like that between 'Chief' and I. He's well within his right to take me out if he feels that it will help the momentum of the game or if he didn't like the goals.
"I think I've gotten pretty thick skin over the years. You can't let things affect you. I'm still going to come to the rink every day and work hard."
Mason's answers were admirable. Really, they were actually impressive, the way he's been able to swallow his own pride and tow the company line in a brutal season - with one road win, a lack of goal support, recurring and poorly managed injuries, the staggering departure of his goalie coach and confidant with 17 games left and Thursday night's debacle in Cowtown.
Just about any other player might have already exploded.
It never should have gotten to this point, not this late in the season, and especially not after the Flyers became an also-ran in the Stanley Cup playoff race.
If Berube felt he needed to make a change in goal, he should have waited 123 more seconds until the second intermission to do so. For about the 10th time this season, it was a lesson on how exactly not to treat your franchise goaltender.
The end result from Berube flexing his muscles yet again was just damage control yesterday at Rexall Place, starting with his meeting with Mason before practice, sadly ending with controlled words from Mason's mouth.
Let the record show that the Flyers and Flames were tied in scoring chances (8-8) before Mason was pulled. Calgary closed out the game with a 10-5 advantage.
Even after admitting Mason was screened, Berube was asked if he would make the same move, even with the 20-20 benefit of hindsight. He is nothing if not confident.
"Of course," Berube responded. "I talked with 'Mase' about all that stuff. That's internal, between him and I, the reason I do things and stuff like that, so I'm going to leave it at that.
"I pulled him out of the game. We talked about it, just talked about a lot of things. It's not hard for me to talk to him, at all. It'd be the same as if I got on a certain player in a game for a play he did, I go talk to him the next day. I can understand everybody's frustration. We have not given him the goal support that's needed and I'm sure he feels he has to stop every little shot because, who knows, we might only score one goal."
Was it any surprise, then, that the Flyers' meeting after the game in the locker room did not include the coach? Repeatedly, captain Claude Giroux said the goal was to make sure the team "sticks together," when from the outside it looks like the coach has just about everyone rattled.
"There's a reason why we close the door," Giroux said. "We want to keep it in the room. I think every team has that, just players only. Sometimes it spices up the meeting a little bit. It's good for the players to speak up and say what they think. Everybody's pretty frustrated . . . The reason why you play hockey is to have that rush in the playoffs, to try to go as far as you can. We're aware that making the playoffs is not really an option anymore. We've got nine games left, we've got to get our things together."
Somehow, through it all, Mason said yesterday he and Berube are "both on the same page." There are seemingly just nine pages left in this nightmare chapter, before Berube could become the Flyers' first end-of-season coaching change since Bill Barber in 2002.
It's time for someone else to fall on the sword.
"At the end of the day, I'm a big boy," Mason said. "Since [goalie coach Jeff Reese has been gone], we've actually had a more open relationship communicationwise. I think that's a good thing to have, especially since I don't have that coach to go to specifically. That doesn't change because of one game getting pulled."
Craig Berube said he'd go back to the usual 12 forwards and six defensemen tonight, with Matt Read rejoining the lineup. "It's hard to describe, a great feeling having a little girl," Read said of the birth of his daughter, Roen, on Tuesday. "A life-changing moment - the feeling that you're starting your family. It's awesome" . . . Berube said he did not make a decision on which defenseman would sit . . . Under coach Todd Nelson, the Oilers (12-20-8) are clicking at 25 percent on the power play . . . Recent free-agent signee Cole Bardreau (from Cornell) was named the ECAC's defensive forward of the year yesterday, then made his debut with the Phantoms last night and scored his first pro goal.