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Mason stymies Caps, takes NHL shutout lead

by Brian Hunter
Steve Mason already led the NHL in goals-against average and save percentage. The rookie goaltending sensation for the Columbus Blue Jackets now has sole possession of the lead in shutouts as well, despite having spent the first month of the season in the minor leagues.

Mason stopped all 45 shots by the Washington Capitals, and the injury-plagued Jackets got a goal and assist each from Jared Boll and Fedor Tyutin in a 3-0 win Friday night at Verizon Center, finishing with an impressive 4-2 record on a six-game road trip.

"It's huge for us," Mason said. "Obviously, with a lot of guys out of the lineup it was a big opportunity for other guys to step up. They did that. We had a down first period, but the guys bounced back in the second and the third."

Mason's sixth shutout broke a tie with Niklas Backstrom of Minnesota and Roberto Luongo of Vancouver, who achieved all of his prior to Nov. 8 and has been out since late November after hurting his groin.

Mason, whose goals against fell to 1.74 while his save percentage improved to .939, didn't make his NHL debut until Nov. 5, but he took advantage of an injury to Pascal Leclaire and has since taken the starting job.

Leclaire was one of a host of Columbus players who didn't dress for Friday's game -- most notable among the missing were leading scorer Rick Nash and another top forward, Kristian Huselius. But the Jackets grabbed the early lead when R.J. Umberger scored midway through the first, and Mason took it from there.

"I think everybody knew our situation, and I think we gained a lot of confidence by surviving the first period," Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I think a lot of our young guys were in awe of what was going on and I think we were nervous and wondering what the heck was going to happen. We never even had one line that was a line a week ago."

Mason stopped 18 shots in both the first and third periods, blanking the Capitals for the second time this season. He made 26 stops on Nov. 29 in Columbus as part of another 3-0 victory. There was question if current backup Daniel LaCosta might have to start for Mason, who suffered from muscle spasms in the upper body, but he not only started, he dominated.

"Seriously? I thought he was in the whole day," Umberger said when informed that Mason had been questionable. "Whatever they worked on, they seemed to work it out. He can decide every day at 6:20 if you're going to play like that."

Washington saw two streaks come to an end: its run of seven straight wins was snapped, as was its nine-game win streak on home ice, one short of the franchise record. The Capitals are 18-2-1 at Verizon Center this season. Alex Ovechkin's effort embodied their night, as he took 12 shots on goal and got nothing past Mason.

"It has to happen one day," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "You get snake-bitten. But good teams rebound from it and, hopefully, we're a good team."

Umberger, a former Flyer who has scored seven of his 12 goals this season against Eastern Conference opponents, poked the puck past Jose Theodore at 9:27 after Jakub Voracek was stopped at the right post.

Tyutin extended the lead on a power play with 1:54 left in the second period, one-timing a cross-ice feed from Manny Malhotra, who finished with two assists.

Boll capped the scoring with his first goal of the season. First, he drew a double roughing minor against Capitals enforcer Donald Brashear, then he banged home a loose puck on the ensuing power play with 5:07 remaining.

"I've had a few chances the past few games and finally it just came out right in front and I just banged it home," Boll said. "Great effort for our team, and we've got to keep going."

Columbus returns home and to host Minnesota on Saturday. Hitchcock said the goal for the road trip was to earn at least six points -- but the Jackets picked up eight, pulling them to within one point of eighth in the Western Conference playoff race.

"One or two guys will be back in tomorrow, hopefully, and that'll give us a big boost," Hitchcock said. "We're going to need it. And then we just keep going. We're at home now for a long time. We've got a lot of home games right now and then we've got home games when we get back off the (All-Star) break. We've earned the right to stay in this race now;  we've just got to get healthy."

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

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