Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Steve Mason has been hesitant to take a break during a tight playoff race. He might not be too eager for a matchup with the Edmonton Oilers, though.
The Blue Jackets, whose star rookie is showing signs of wearing down, look to avoid another poor defensive effort against the Oilers on Thursday night in a matchup for playoff position in the Western Conference.
With Columbus (30-25-6) seeking the first postseason appearance in team history, Mason has started seven straight games following a bout with mononucleosis. The Blue Jackets have 66 points and are in sixth place in the West, one point ahead of an Edmonton team in a four-way tie for seventh.
"Every game is important right now," Oilers winger Erik Cole said. "It doesn't matter who you are playing. It's that time of year where you can't be squandering points."
Columbus enters this contest having lost two straight after picking up at least one point in seven in a row (6-0-1). Mason, who has a 2.19 goals-against average and seven shutouts, has given up eight goals in his last two contests - three in a 4-1 loss to Calgary on Tuesday night.
Mason also has struggled in two games versus the Oilers (30-25-5), going 1-1-0 with a 4.02 GAA. However, Pascal Leclaire fared much worse in Columbus' only other meeting with Edmonton this season, allowing every Oilers goal and stopping just 19 shots in a 7-2 Blue Jackets loss Nov. 18.
Leclaire will be out at least another six weeks after having ankle surgery, so Wade Dubielewicz is Columbus' only option if it decides to give Mason a breather. Dubielewicz, though, has played in just two games this season.
Regardless of who is in net for the Blue Jackets, the Oilers will be looking for another boost on offense as they try for their fifth straight home win in the series.
Edmonton had scored a total of six goals in three straight losses before beating Tampa Bay 5-3 on Tuesday night as Sheldon Souray had two goals.
The Oilers were coming off a 3-2 shootout loss to provincial rival Calgary on Saturday night, when the Flames tied the game with 1:05 left in regulation.
"This was huge for us to get the momentum moving forward," Oilers center Sam Gagner said after Tuesday's victory. "Especially after the last three games. We had a couple mistakes but we also did a lot of things right. ... It was a character win. Hopefully we can build on it."
Cole, Jason Strudwick and Andrew Cogliano also scored for Edmonton.
Cogliano scored his 14th goal but just his second in the last 22 games. The second-year center has five goals and three assists in seven games against the Blue Jackets.
Columbus center R.J. Umberger, meanwhile, has five goals in his last six games and has set a career high with 21 this season. However, he's been limited to one goal and no assists in four career contests versus Edmonton.