It's safe to say that without the stellar -- and surprising -- play of rookie goalie Steve Mason, the Columbus Blue Jackets would be spending their ninth spring watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs instead of being part of the postseason party for the first time in franchise history.
At 20 years old, Mason is entrenched as the No. 1 goalie and is the favorite for the Calder Trophy. A day after beating Chicago last Wednesday to clinch the franchise's first playoff berth, Mason took time to talk about that and more with NHL.com.
1. NHL.com: You're only 20 years old and all of a sudden you are going to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Does everything seem like it's moving in fast-forward?
Steve Mason: "Yeah, the season has definitely flown by. There was not a lot of downtime to sit back and think about what we have accomplished. The NHL is everything I expected it to be."
2. NHL.com: You weren't around for the losing times in Columbus, but I'm sure you have heard about it more than you probably would like. Can you call Columbus a hockey town now?
Mason: "Absolutely it is. We have been getting great crowds and they are extremely supportive. Even when we weren't doing so well at the start of the season, they were really supportive. It's finally time for them to enjoy some playoff hockey."
3. NHL.com: How much has defenseman Fedor Tyutin meant to this team?
Mason: "He's been great. He has given us some offense, especially on our power play, and he's a key plug for us in our defensive zone. That was a great acquisition this summer and everybody is benefitting from it. He does everything. He has quite a few points for us, he kills penalties -- he does everything well. We know every game we're going to get the same game from him."
4. NHL.com: How fitting was it for the Blue Jackets to have Rick Nash score that goal in Chicago that essentially got you the point you needed to clinch a playoff berth?
Mason: "That was extremely nice and fitting for Rick to get that. It was a huge goal for this franchise and it couldn't happen to a better guy in this city. He has been the face of this franchise and he'll continue to be that. Everybody follows him. He's the leader."
5. NHL.com: You have experienced some big events, like playing for Canada in the World Junior Championship, but everyone says the Stanley Cup Playoffs is a different beast altogether. What are you envisioning?
Mason: "It's going to be a lot of fun. It's going to be playoff hockey and that's what you play the season for. The level of intensity is going to go up and we're going to have to be prepared for that."
6. NHL.com: Why has this team been able to get over the hump, to do what it has this season?
Mason: "Obviously those key acquisitions (Tyutin, Kristian Huselius, R.J. Umberger, Antoine Vermette). The players we got helped, but this team gelled from Day 1. We have a great locker room and that goes a long way to determining how people play on the ice. If people are comfortable and have fun, they enjoy coming to the rink."
7. NHL.com: Describe Antoine Vermette's value to this club since he arrived at the trade deadline?
Mason: "Right from Day 1 he and Umberger have had this connection and it hasn't stopped. Not only has he been helpful on the ice, but he's a good guy to have in the locker room, too. The guys have really taken a liking to him. He had a long playoff run (with Ottawa in 2007), and that experience will help us going forward here."
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com.