Flyers coach Dave Hakstol downplayed what the latest schedule break did for his workhorse goalie, Steve Mason.
"It's nice to have the time off and let the body heal up," Mason said after the Flyers returned to the ice Monday in Voorhees, following three days off for the all-star break. ". . . It's been an extremely busy 50 games of the year," punctuated by 13 sets of back-to-back contests.
It was the Flyers' third break since just before Christmas. For the final 32 games, starting with Tuesday's matchup in Carolina, it will be pedal to the metal.
"I think the guys are ready for this final two-plus-month push," Mason said. "We're in a position where we really control our own fate at the end of the season. The guys have a strong task ahead of us, but I think we're prepared for it."
The Flyers are in the Eastern Conference's final wild-card spot and have a one-point lead over their closest pursuer, Toronto, which has three games in hand. Seven points separate 10 teams that could secure the last wild-card spot.
"We're trying not to look at the standings," defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said. 'We're just going to let our hockey do the talking."
Mason benefited from an NHL-mandated bye week that started Jan. 16 and included four days off the ice. He had started 26 of the previous 30 games, looked tired and was struggling toward the end of that stretch. But he returned from the bye week refreshed and registered a 3-2 overtime win over the Islanders and then blanked the Rangers, 2-0.
"The last two breaks came at opportune times," he said. "At the bye week, we were struggling and it was nice to get away and kind of reset. This past all-star break, we went in with a three-game winning streak, so it was nice to sit on a good feeling for a couple days."
Added Mason: "I feel a lot better now than I did two weeks ago."
Mason, 28, said as he gets older, it takes him longer to recover "even compared to last year. I've started staying off the ice in some optional skates just to preserve some energy. You really just have to be smart with your workload."
This season, Mason (2.84 goals-against average, .902 save percentage) has been inconsistent. He is trying to duplicate last year's post-all-star break numbers: a 13-7-4 record, a 2.28 goals-against average, and a .921 save percentage.
On Tuesday, the Flyers will face a Carolina team that is 15-6-1 at home, but overall has lost its last five games. The Flyers overcame a 2-0 deficit and beat the visiting Hurricanes, 6-3, on Oct. 22 as Jake Voracek collected three points. They also won in Carolina eight nights later, 4-3, as Brandon Manning scored a shorthanded goal with 12 minutes left to snap a 3-3 tie.
Hakstol sees the playoff race "being a battle all the way down to probably the final buzzer of the last game of the year. I think anybody who thought any different would be a little misguided. We're right there in the hunt, and we have to control our own destiny as we move forward."
One day after he was named the All-Star Game MVP in Los Angeles, Wayne Simmonds was selected as the NHL's No. 1 star of the week. He had the game-winner in a 2-0 victory over the Rangers and scored a goal in a 2-1 victory over Toronto. Simmonds and Reggie Leach (1980) are the only Flyers to be named the All-Star Game MVP. . . . Simmonds traveled from Los Angeles to Raleigh and was excused from Monday's practice. . . . Michael Del Zotto, who has been nursing a leg injury, says he feels ready to play. . . . The Flyers were five games out of a playoff spot at last year's all-star break.