ANAHEIM, Calif. – Rookie Steve Mason was in the minor leagues for the first month of the season and didn’t get to play for the Columbus Blue Jackets until their 13th game.
Since then, the six-foot-four phenom has quickly emerged as one of the NHL’s hottest goalies. On Wednesday night, he became the first Columbus goalie to post shutouts in three consecutive games, stopping 27 shots and leading the Blue Jackets to a 2-0 victory over the Anaheim Ducks.
“After my first game, I felt that I had the confidence that I could play in this league and it’s grown in every game,” Mason said, who beat Edmonton 5-4 in his NHL debut on Nov. 5. “The time’s gone by real fast ever since I’ve been here. It’s been an interesting two months already. I’m trying not to get too far ahead of myself, but every game I play I’m getting more and more comfortable.”
Mason extended his shutout streak to a franchise-record 182 minutes eight seconds and lowered his NHL-leading goals-against average to 1.69. His fifth shutout tied injured Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo for the most in the league.
“It was a pretty routine game for myself. The guys played great in front of myself and made it real easy,” Mason said after his 19th career start and first against the Ducks. “You try not to pay attention to it and think about a shutout because you don’t want to jinx it. It was nice to get, but obviously the most important thing is the win. And right now I’m just trying to get as many wins as I can.”
Mason’s 2-0 win Monday night at Staples Center made him the third goalie in Blue Jackets history to record shutouts in back-to-back games. Fredrik Norrena did it Dec. 2-5, 2006, against Edmonton and Colorado. Former Ducks goalie Ron Tugnutt also accomplished the feat March 14-16, 2001, against Calgary and Atlanta.
“It’s very comforting to have him back there,” said Chris MacDonald, who scored in his Blue Jackets debut. “If he sees the puck, he’s going to stop it. He’s very much under control and he’s pretty confident for a 20-year-old.”
Mason stopped all 71 shots in the last three games against the Ducks, Philadelphia and Los Angeles. His flawless streak appeared to end at 17:52 of the second period after Corey Perry circled the net with the puck and came out in front with it before beating him to the glove side.
But referee Rob Shick immediately waved the goal off, having blown his whistle to call at interference penalty against Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf. He and Blue Jackets centre R.J. Umberger also received roughing penalties.
“The referee said that I went to the net and ended up taking a couple of guys with me,” Getzlaf said. “I think it was a matter of us running into each other. Those can go either way, but that was his interpretation of the play and we have to live with it.”
McDonald, who was recalled from Syracuse of the AHL on Saturday, redirected Mike Commodore’s 55-foot slapshot over goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere’s glove with 12:27 left in the game. Columbus is McDonald’s seventh NHL team in the last six seasons. He played in 65 games last season with Tampa Bay, getting two goals and nine assists.
Michael Peca scored with 3:34 to play, beating Giguere from 20 feet in the slot.
“The last few games we’ve bought into our identity, which is strong checking, hard working and 20 guys playing for each other. That’s where we have success,” Peca said. “I think far too often, when we want to try and go against the critics and show we can score goals and be fancy, that always comes back to hurt us. That’s not our style and it’s not the way we’re built.”
Columbus’ victory ended a string of five consecutive losses to the Ducks. The Blue Jackets diffused five Anaheim power plays, extending their streak to 17 straight penalty-kills and 37 of the last 40.
Anaheim was shut out for the second time this season. Evgeni Nabokov beat them 2-0 with 31 saves on Dec. 11 at San Jose. The last time they were blanked at home was Dec. 2, 2007, when Mathieu Garon made 25 saves in a 4-0 win.
“It was a flat game for us, emotion-wise,” coach Randy Carlyle said. “We had a lot of trouble getting any noise on the bench. We just couldn’t get any emotion going for ourselves.”
Giguere, who had never played in an all-star game, leads Luongo by more than 82,000 votes in online fan balloting – which ends on Friday – and is pretty much a lock to be the starting goalie for the Western Conference all-stars in his hometown of Montreal on Jan. 25.
Notes: The Blue Jackets were shut out in the two games immediately preceding these last three victories. … The Ducks began the calendar year 8-0-1 and finished 2008 with a 47-25-7 regular-season record. Columbus was 33-37-10 in 2008. … Columbus RW Jared Boll is one of three forwards in the league who has played at least 30 games this season without scoring a goal. The others are Minnesota LW Derek Boogaard and Nashville RW Wade Belak. St. Louis RW Cam Janssen, still looking for his first goal, will play his 30th game on Friday. … Columbus captain Rick Nash played in his 400th NHL regular-season game. … Columbus has played on New Year’s Eve in every season since joining the NHL in 2000-01 5-3-0. Last year, Nash had a hat trick had a hat trick in a 4-3 win against Edmonton. … Ducks D Bret Hedican sat out because of an upper body injury, the first game he’s missed since joining the lineup on Oct. 27. He signed with them four days earlier as a free agent, after spending the previous six seasons with Carolina. … The Blue Jackets were 0-for-4 on the power play, and are a league-worst 17-for-165.