The last time Blue Jackets goaltender Steve Mason posted a shutout, the team in front of him erupted for four third-period goals in a 4-0 win over the Nashville Predators. That was Feb. 22, 2011 – a victory that pulled Columbus within three points of a playoff spot.
And though the circumstances were different last night at Pepsi Center in Denver, it did not tarnish the good vibes going around the Blue Jackets locker room. Mason was the backbone of a 2-0 win over the Colorado Avalanche, a typical “spoiler” type game that could significantly impede the Avalanche’s playoff hopes.
He made 32 saves and his strongest moments came in the final 90 seconds, as the Avalanche pulled Semyon Varlamov for an extra attacker with a power play. During the 6-on-4 advantage, Mason stood tall and allowed the defense to collapse in front of him.
“We got contributions from everyone tonight,” Blue Jackets interim head coach Todd Richards said. “It was a 60-minute effort and I really liked our first 40. We got some really key saves and our defensemen did a great job shutting them down. Our forwards were great as units, supporting our defense and our goalie.
“(Mason) looked good. His depth in the net was very good, and he looked very confident. I think he was a little shaky at first, but once he settled down and got some confidence, he looked really solid in the net tonight. Can we carry this over to our Phoenix game? We have a lot of reasons to feel good about ourselves, a lot of positives from this game and hopefully we can build off that.”
The Blue Jackets knew that the Avalanche would try to make amends for a lackluster 40 minutes with a high-octane third period. They are one of the NHL’s best teams in scoring off the rush but Columbus made plays throughout the game that enabled them to exit the defensive zone quickly.
The Avalanche never got their counterattack game going, and when called upon, Mason answered the bell.
“I thought we played a really strong first and second period,” Mason said. “We really cut down their chances and the guys were working real hard in front of me. This is a tough building to play in, we know with them in a playoff push and the altitude here, most people don’t realize but it makes a big difference. Going into the third period, I was fully confident that we were going to pull it out.
“They’re going to get their chances but that’s to be expected because they were a hungry team. We’re going into Phoenix, and they’re the hottest team in the league right now. They have a goaltender that’s playing unbelievable right now. We’re going to be in tough there, but we have to hope for another good effort like this and move on to Phoenix.”
The confidence was in full bloom midway through the third period. Colorado took advantage of a Blue Jackets turnover in the neutral zone, and Milan Hejduk started a 3-on-2 rush going the other way. At the offensive blue line, Hejduk slipped a pass to Cody McLeod who had a 2-on-1 with line mate Jay McClement.
McClement got the centering pass right on his tape, but Mason came across and made a thunderous left-pad rejection that left the Avalanche looking skyward for answers.
When the final horn sounded, the victory was one to savor for the Blue Jackets – who have endured their share of third-period drama throughout the season.
“That’s the way it goes - you need everybody,” Vinny Prospal said. “You need the goalie, defensemen and forwards to put the puck in the net. We played our complete game (against Colorado).
“It’s not just about the win, it’s about the whole game. How many times this season have we lost a lead in the third period or in the last minute? For us to finish the game as strong as we did tonight, it’s a big plus.”