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Mason back to blanking opponents

by John Kreiser and Brian Hunter
A few thoughts as we look forward to a Saturday afternoon and evening jam-packed with games:

Rolling right along -- It seemed like a while since Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Steve Mason had recorded a shutout. In reality it was only seven starts, but when you burst onto the scene with six in your first 24 NHL games, including back-to-back-to-back blankings during one stretch, expectations quickly become elevated.

Have no fear -- Mason was back at his stingiest best Friday night, and he needed to be. The Blue Jackets got him a Jakub Voracek goal early in the second period and nothing more, but Mason made that hold up with 18 saves in a 1-0 win over the Ottawa Senators at Nationwide Arena.

"Steve Mason had an outstanding game," said Voracek, who redirected a shot by Michael Peca past Alex Auld for his eighth of the season. "He made a couple of big saves in the third period. It doesn't matter if it's 1-0 or 5-4; it's still two points for us."

Mason now leads the League with seven shutouts, and the Blue Jackets moved into a four-way tie for fifth in the Western Conference with 53 points. Three other teams sit just two points out of a playoff spot in an ever-tightening race.

"The most important thing for myself is getting us in a playoff position, and we did that tonight," Mason said. "Obviously, we just want to keep moving forward with it. Shutouts are nice to get on a personal note, but they don't really mean anything in the end."

Columbus will depend on its rookie goalie heavily down the stretch as it chases its first-ever postseason berth, and the Jackets got a mild scare when Mason appeared to be favoring his right knee after a hard shot by the Senators' Alexandre Picard in the third.

"I got hit in the knee," he said. "It just kind of completely skipped a pad and went on my knee. It didn't feel too good. My pads are pretty crappy right now. I'll be getting some new ones pretty soon, hopefully."

Better late than never -- Jamie Langenbrunner scored twice in each of the New Jersey Devils' first two games following the All-Star break. That streak seemed unlikely to continue when the Devils entered the final minute trailing by a goal to the Pittsburgh Penguins and their captain hadn't factored in any of the offense.

But Langenbrunner has been coming through in key spots -- he entered the night with two straight game-winners, including an overtime goal in Boston on Thursday -- and he energized the Prudential Center crowd and demoralized the Penguins by tying the game with 31 seconds left and scoring again with a minute left in OT to give the Devils a 4-3 win, their eighth in a row.

"That guy's unbelievable. He's Mr. Clutch," said goaltender Scott Clemmensen, who thanks in part to Langenbrunner's heroics has a personal seven-game win streak. "This team's been unbelievable at handling adversity and bouncing back, just fighting and grinding it."

In addition to the goaltender and the scoring star, the Devils have gotten a boost from the signing of veteran forward Brendan Shanahan. After keeping himself in good shape in anticipation of an eventual return to the NHL, Shanahan has three goals and one assist in his first five games back with the team that originally drafted him almost 22 years ago.

"I was working really hard, working on my conditioning, doing a lot of game-like situations," Shanahan said. "I'm an optimist, so I always thought it was going to happen, next week or the week after. So that really helped me with my training, with the intensity.

"In my mind I wasn't really sure what to expect. I felt really confident in my ability. I expressed that to some of the teams I was looking for. I said I feel really good, I think I can help a team, and I'm glad to be put in that situation."

Turning points -- It was a 6-1 victory for the Philadelphia Flyers, but the potential existed for their game with the Tampa Bay Lightning to turn out a lot differently.

Antero Niittymaki had to turn aside 41 shots, including 20 on the power play, as the Lightning received nine man advantages but scored only once. Tampa also had a pair of goals disallowed and Martin St. Louis came up empty on a penalty shot that could have made it a 3-2 game in the third.

Mark Recchi thought he had given the Lightning a 2-1 lead late in the first period, but it was ruled he intentionally directed the puck past Niittymaki with his skate. Steven Stamkos later lost a goal because of a high stick.

"They made the wrong call," Recchi said of the review that disallowed his goal. "If you look at it in fast motion, there's no way I can react to that puck. It's a terrible call on their part, and it made a big difference in the game."

Stamkos felt similarly about his play: "I believe 100 percent it was (a goal)," he said. "It's a tough thing to swallow. It's a tough loss."

The Flyers, on the other hand, capitalized on their chances. Jeff Carter regained the League lead in goals by scoring twice in the third period as Philadelphia pulled away. Carter now has 32 goals this season, one more than Alex Ovechkin of Washington.

"I thought our team worked hard tonight, and it's nice to see us capitalize," Flyers coach John Stevens said.

Stepping up -- Leadership in hockey takes a lot of forms. In the case of Edmonton defenseman Steve Staios, it meant laying his body on the line to help his team get over the worst home loss in its history.

Staios set the tone early for the Oilers with a thunderous hit on Minnesota forward Stephane Veilleux that triggered a fight with Wild forward Cal Clutterbuck. Staios' teammates went on from there to a 3-1 win that moved the Oilers on top of the four teams tied for fifth in the West.

Staios said the Oilers couldn't have a repeat of the 10-2 loss to Buffalo on Tuesday -- the worst home loss in franchise history.

"We have a lot of pride here," he said. "Sometimes it doesn't show. The other night it didn't show. We wanted to prove that it was one of those things. We want to play well, especially here at home. Our fans deserve that."


Captain Ethan Moreau said there was a lot of locker-room discussion over the past two days about the need to come out strong, but that Staios turned words into action.

"You can say all the right things about coming out hard and playing physical and having a lot of pride, but you see a guy like Stevie set the tone for us. I've known him long enough -- I've seen that look in his eye," Moreau said.

"He was mad after the loss, and he tried to frame it the right way and tried to be positive, but he took it out the old-fashioned way."

Staios is one of the leaders in the Oilers' locker room, and he knows that these are the kind of circumstances in which veterans have to stand up

"That's our responsibility. That's what we pride ourselves on," he said. "Sometimes we don't show up on the scoresheet, but we want to try to provide leadership -- be accountable to our teammates. Tonight things worked out. It's hard to be physical sometimes -- the opportunity isn’t there, and you don't want to run around and get yourself out of position. Tonight the opportunity was there and the team responded."

Save of the night — Calgary Flames goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff made sure the Nashville Predators left the Pengrowth Saddledome empty-handed.

Kiprusoff made five of his 28 saves during a third-period power play in which the Predators pressed for the tying goal in a 2-1 game. All were superb -- but the best came when scrambled across the crease and got the paddle of his stick on what looked like a sure goal for Nashville forward Ryan Jones. Adrian Aucoin's power-play goal a few minutes later iced a 3-1 victory for the Flames.

"I just tried to turn around and find the puck and get it in the air because most goalies are going to be along the ground but he did a good job of taking away the bottom of the net, threw the paddle up in the air and got a stick on it," Jones said.

It was the kind of save the Flames have come to expect from Kiprusoff, who finished with 28 saves for his League-high 30th victory of the season.

"That was unbelievable," said forward Matthew Lombardi, who scored the game's first goal. "It looked like he was right out of it and then he comes across and makes a big save.

"Guys around here that have been playing with him a few years have come to know him that way and know he can make the big save."

Material from wire services and team broadcast and online media was used in this report

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