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After missing three games with mononucleosis, rookie goaltender Steve Mason looked as if he hadn't skipped a beat when he returned to help the Columbus Blue Jackets defeat the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Mason is expected to be back in net Saturday night against the Carolina Hurricanes as he'll try to help the Blue Jackets win four straight for the first time in six weeks.
Columbus (27-23-5) has never been to the postseason in its eight-year history, but it's in the Western Conference mix thanks to the play of its Calder Trophy hopeful. Ken Hitchcock's club is tied with Minnesota for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.
Mason leads the NHL in shutouts (seven) and goals-against average (2.09), and has been in net for 20 of the Blue Jackets' victories. Though he was diagnosed on Jan. 29, Mason wasn't placed on injured reserve until Feb. 4.
Wade Dubielewicz and Dan LaCosta helped guide Columbus to a 2-1-0 record in his absence. But the 20-year-old returned Friday and stopped 32 shots, including several under heavy pressure in the final minutes, to lead the Blue Jackets to a 3-2 victory over Detroit.
"It's the best I've felt in a really long time," Mason said. "I've a lot of pep back - my attitude, my demeanor or whatever. I feel really good right now."
Mason, who spent the first month of the season in the minors, is set to make his first career start against Carolina (27-23-5).
While Mason was solid in his return, Columbus got the go-ahead goal from right wing Jason Williams with 6:55 remaining in the third period.
The Blue Jackets, who started their winning streak last Saturday with a 3-2 victory over West-leading San Jose, haven't won four consecutive games since Dec. 27-Jan. 2.
"Anytime you're up against teams like San Jose or Detroit, you want to make sure that you're up for the test," Williams said. "It's a confidence builder for our team."
Williams has scored in three straight games, and has five goals and three assists in 12 games since being acquired in a trade from Atlanta on Jan. 14. In four games - all with the Thrashers - against the Hurricanes this season, Williams had a goal and an assist.
Columbus hasn't met Carolina since a 4-1 home win on Dec. 29, 2007. The Blue Jackets, who have lost three straight road games since a 6-5 shootout victory on Jan. 18 at Vancouver, are 1-4-0 all-time at the RBC Center.
The Hurricanes also are coming off a disappointing 5-0 home loss to Florida on Thursday. Carolina, which had won eight of its previous 10 in Raleigh, was shut out for the first time this season despite peppering Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun with 42 shots.
"It was 5-0 in your home building," forward Tuomo Ruutu said. "It's not acceptable."
While Carolina's offense faltered, Cam Ward stopped just nine of 13 shots he faced before being replaced midway through the second by Michael Leighton. Ward was 5-2-0 with a 1.72 GAA and two shutouts in his previous seven starts.
He played 40 minutes in the loss to Columbus in 2007, turning aside 17 of 20 shots before John Grahame came on.
The Hurricanes are tied with Pittsburgh for in ninth in the East with 59 points. Florida and Buffalo are tied for seventh with 64 points.