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Mason leads Blues into top eight in West

by John Kreiser
The two halves of Chris Mason's 2008-09 season couldn't be more different.

Mason signed with the St. Louis Blues during the summer as a free agent, but spent the first three months of the season struggling, along with his team. He reached New Year's Day with a 3-11-1 record and 3.22 goals-against average -- a big reason the Blues were battling to stay out of the Western Conference cellar.

Mason also lost his first two starts of 2009. But since then, he's been on the kind of a roll most goalies only dream about. Mason has carried the Blues all the way into the final playoff berth in the West with two weeks remaining in the regular season.

The 32-year-old has started each of the Blues' last 32 games, going 20-7-5 while cutting his GAA for the season down to 2.42 and boosting his save percentage from .899 to .917. He's been getting better over the past few weeks, backstopping the Blues to five consecutive victories while allowing just nine goals on 135 shots -- including four wins in as many games last week as the Blues climbed into eighth.

Five up -- Five players who've been producing:

Henrik Sedin -- The playmaking half of the Sedin twins had a big week, setting up six goals in four games for the surging Vancouver Canucks. He also scored three times, giving him a nine-point week in which he also went plus-7.

Cam Ward -- Ward is carrying Carolina into the playoffs with the kind of play that earned him the Conn Smythe Trophy during the Hurricanes' run to the Stanley Cup in 2006.  He's been in goal for all six games during Carolina's six-game winning streak and went 3-0-0 last week while allowing just four goals on 93 shots.

Marian Gaborik -- The Minnesota Wild scored 12 goals while splitting four games last week, and Gaborik was involved in seven of them. He scored a goal against the Rangers in New York, had two more goals and set up another pair the next night on Long Island, and added the game-winner and an assist Sunday night in a 3-2 win at Edmonton that kept Minnesota's playoff hopes alive.

Devin Setoguchi -- Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau get the attention, but Setoguchi's play is a big reason the San Jose Sharks lead the Presidents' Trophy race. He has 10 points in a six-game point streak and reached the 30-goal mark during a six-point week.

Alex Tanguay --
Tanguay missed more than two months with a shoulder injury before returning in early March, and he's finally looking like the player the Montreal Canadiens thought they were getting in last June's trade with Calgary. He had 2 goals and 6 assists in three games last week, including a five-point night against Atlanta.

Five down -- Five players who've struggled:

Chris Osgood -- Ozzie's play last week re-opened the question of who Detroit coach Mike Babcock will use as his starting goaltender in the playoffs. He was 0-2-0 last week and avoided a third loss after a woeful performance in Calgary when the Wings rallied to get close in the third period.

Kyle Quincey -- Quincey's first full NHL season has been a success (4-34-38 in 72 games with Los Angeles), but maybe he's running out of steam. The 23-year-old is pointless in his last nine games and is minus-8 in that span.

Chris Kelly -- The Ottawa Senators don't expect tons of offense out of Kelly, a third-line center. But they'd like something -- certainly more than they've gotten during his nine-game pointless streak.

Tyler Arnason -- It's been a tough season for Colorado, which enters the week with a seven-game losing streak. Arnason hasn't scored a point in his last seven games (he was scratched in two others) and hasn't had a goal since Feb. 20.

John Madden -- After a 20-goal season in 2007-08, Madden's offensive game has disappeared down the stretch. He hasn't had a point in New Jersey's last eight games, and has just one (a goal) in his last 18 contests. Madden, a Devils' mainstay, is on pace for his poorest offensive season since 2001-02.

Injuries, news and notes

Out -- Buffalo's Patrick Kaleta sustained a concussion in the Sabres' 4-3 victory at Montreal on Saturday. … San Jose captain Patrick Marleau left Saturday night's game in the second period after suffering a lower-body injury. Jonathan Cheechoo also missed the game with a lower-body injury. … Dallas defensemen Stephane Robidas (lower body) and Mark Fistric (upper body) both left Saturday's game with injuries. Another defenseman, Trevor Daley, missed the game after leaving Thursday with a lower body injury following a knee-to-knee collision. … Colorado forward Wojtek Wolski missed the Avs' last two games with the flu. … Boston forward Phil Kessel missed the Bruins' two weekend games with an undisclosed injury. … Nashville center David Legwand took a puck to the face in practice on Wednesday and hasn't played since. Forward Martin Erat was helped off the ice after getting hit in the left leg by teammate Shea Weber's slap shot in the second period of Sunday's game. He didn't return, and the team said he had a lower-body injury. Another forward, Ryan Jones, missed Sunday's game with an upper-body injury. … Detroit defenseman Brian Rafalski missed Sunday's game with a groin injury. … Kings center Jarret Stoll will miss the rest of the season with a groin injury. … Philadelphia forward Riley Cote sat out Sunday's game with a finger injury sustained Saturday. … Chicago forward Troy Brouwer left Sunday's game after falling awkwardly in the first period and didn't return. Forward Matt Walker's upper-body injury has kept him out of four games. … Edmonton defenseman Ladislav Smid left Sunday's game in the second period with a fractured left hand and didn't return. … Minnesota forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard missed the Wild's last two games with what the team called a headache after taking a big hit in a game Wednesday.

Returning -- Buffalo got a big boost when starting goaltender Ryan Miller returned Friday night. He had missed 13 games with a high ankle sprain. Center Adam Mair returned Saturday after missing five games with a knee injury and scored the Sabres' first goal in a 4-3 shootout win. … Minnesota captain Mikko Koivu returned Sunday after missing three games with a leg injury. … Toronto defenseman Tomas Kaberle, out for 12 games with a broken bone in his right hand, took part in Saturday's morning skate and may be back by midweek. Forward Niklas Hagman returned Saturday and scored a goal after missing 13 games due to a concussion. … Columbus forward Jason Chimera hopes to return this weekend; he's been out since late February with a groin problem that required surgery. … New Jersey defenseman Colin White played Friday after missing four games due to a lower-body injury. … Calgary forward Todd Bertuzzi returned on Thursday; it was his first game since undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery on March 1. … Islanders center Doug Weight returned Friday after missing nearly six weeks with a sprained knee ligament. … Detroit forward Tomas Holmstrom returned Tuesday after sitting out three games with a strained knee.

Still out -- Rangers defenseman Michal Rozsival has missed a week with a lower-body injury and there's no timetable for him to begin skating again. … Nashville captain Jason Arnott is skating again but hasn't played since March 10 due to a concussion. … Detroit defenseman Andreas Lilja is still experiencing headaches from the concussion he suffered in late February. He's nowhere near ready to return, and may not be back by playoff time. … Anaheim defenseman Francois Beauchemin, who's missed most of the season after tearing up his knee and requiring reconstructive surgery in November, could return for the playoffs should the Ducks qualify. He's skating again. … Kings forward Alexander Frolov has missed three games with a lower-body injury, and there's no word as to when he'll be back. … Dallas captain Brenden Morrow, who underwent reconstructive knee surgery in December, wants to play again this season -- but whether that will happen is up in the air, especially since it looks like the Stars will miss the playoffs. … The Islanders say starting goaltender Rick DiPietro is on track to return for training camp. He's missed most of the season with knee problems that required surgery. Isles defenseman Andy Sutton, who went down with a broken foot in December, has officially been ruled out for the season. He had hoped to return by late March. … Minnesota defenseman Brent Burns, out since March 10 with a concussion, is exercising but still isn't ready to return. …  Blues forward Paul Kariya, who hasn't played since early November and has undergone surgery on both hips, could return to the lineup if St. Louis makes the playoffs.

The week ahead -- Hectic, but not as bad as the past couple of weeks. Six teams play four games; just two (Colorado and Detroit) play only twice.

Games to watch
New Jersey at New York Rangers (March 30) -- With Versus on hand, the Devils will try to end a four-game slide -- while the suddenly struggling Rangers also need a win to keep their playoff spot.

San Jose at Calgary (March 30) -- For the second Monday in a row, two of the three division leaders in the West meet at the Pengrowth Saddledome. The Flames desperately need the victory to hold off Vancouver for the Northwest Division lead, while San Jose is battling Detroit for the Presidents' Trophy.

Anaheim at Edmonton (March 31) -- It's a return match for two of the West's playoff contenders; Oilers goaltender Dwayne Roloson hopes he doesn't see anything near the 54 shots he faced at Anaheim four days earlier -- but he would like to repeat the outcome, a 5-3 win.

Montreal at Toronto (April 4) -- If the Canadiens want to make the playoffs, this is a game they have to win -- but they've struggled against the Leafs this season, losing 5-2 at Montreal in their last meeting two weeks earlier.

Minnesota at Detroit (April 5) -- NBC will be at Joe Louis Arena to see if the Wild can keep their playoff hopes alive at the expense of the Red Wings, who are battling San Jose for first place in the overall standings.

Tough week ahead
Anaheim Ducks --
The Ducks will pile up some frequent-flier miles this week. They visit Vancouver and Edmonton, then play at San Jose before coming home for a return match with the Sharks -- all in a six-day span.

St. Louis Blues -- If the Blues want to make the playoffs, they'll have to do it on the road. They play the middle three games of a five-game trip this week with visits to Chicago, Detroit and Dallas.

San Jose Sharks -- The Sharks have spent very little time at home recently, and that trend continues with a four-game week that starts with road games against the two Alberta teams before a home-and-home with Anaheim.

Easy week ahead

Boston Bruins -- With all the college hoops and hockey tournaments gone, the Bruins get to stay home this week. Their three games include two non-playoff teams (Tampa Bay and Ottawa) before a Saturday visit from the Rangers.

Carolina Hurricanes -- The 'Canes get a four-day break before putting their six-game winning streak on the line for home games against the Rangers and Penguins.

Detroit Red Wings -- The Wings will have plenty of time to catch Final Four hoops fever -- they play only twice this week, both at home, against St. Louis and Minnesota.
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