COLUMBUS, Ohio – It may be too late to get the Columbus Blue Jackets back in the playoff chase, but Steve Mason has suddenly solved his problems.
Mason made 40 saves for his second shutout in three games since a coaching change and the Blue Jackets beat San Jose 3-0 on Wednesday night, ending the Sharks’ road winning streak at nine games.
“Anytime you get a shutout, it’s a team effort,” Mason said after the high-scoring Sharks were shut down for only the second time this season. “I thought our first two periods were great. Then obviously in the third I thought we sat back a little and they had their opportunities. But at the end of the day, it was two points against a really good hockey club.”
With the victory, interim Blue Jackets coach Claude Noel improved to 3-0 since taking over for the fired Ken Hitchcock on Feb. 3.
“I really enjoyed the game,” Noel said. “Mase was great. I didn’t think he had to be great for the whole 60 minutes, but he was really good when he had to be and made some marvellous saves.”
Rick Nash scored his 26th goal, Jake Voracek ended a long scoring drought, and Antoine Vermette added an empty-netter for the Blue Jackets.
But this one was mostly about Mason.
“Mase’s game was unbelievable,” Voracek said. “The last three games he’s been unstoppable.”
The shutout was Mason’s fourth of the season and raised his franchise record to 14. He led the league in shutouts as a rookie last season with 10, but has been near the bottom in goaltending stats for most of this season. But he has stopped 90 of 91 shots he’s faced in the Blue Jackets’ three-game winning streak.
In the only game with Noel behind the bench that Mason didn’t post a shutout, he didn’t allow a goal until there were just 46 seconds left in a 2-1 victory over Dallas.
He was at his best in the third period with Columbus clinging to a 2-0 lead as the Sharks – with the most prolific offence and best record in the Western Conference – amped up the pressure. He stopped Ryane Clowe’s shot during a wild scrum in which 11 players were piled in front of the net early in the period.
Mason received a standing ovation from a crowd of 15,234 after making a sterling glove save of Huskins’ jam shot with eight minutes left.
“For the first portion of the season, I wasn’t coming up with the big saves,” Mason said. “Obviously, tonight that (glove save) was probably one of the biggest. If you let that in, it’s a 2-1 hockey game. And getting a standing ovation is great. The fans have always been behind me, especially this season when it’s not really going the way that I had wanted it.”
Mason added kick saves on shots by Clowe and Dan Boyle and also smothered a blast by Nicklas Wallin in the final minutes to preserve the shutout.
“I think it was more our guys tonight than Mason,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. “It’s disappointing that for 40 minutes we didn’t have a lot of pop.”
San Jose centre Patrick Marleau credited the opposing goalie.
“That’s the way it sometimes goes,” he said. “(Mason) made some pretty good stops.”
Voracek broke a 26-game goal drought when he made it 2-0 at 8:40 of the second period. Derick Brassard feathered a pass that got through defenceman Kent Huskins and right to Voracek, who faked and then slid the puck between goaltender Thomas Griess’ leg pads. Voracek’s last goal had come on Dec. 14.
That touched off a wild celebration involving Voracek and Brassard, to youngsters who had struggled under the tutelage of Hitchcock.
The Blue Jackets, who came in just 8-6-3 when leading after a period, grabbed a 1-0 lead on Nash’s goal. While Kristian Huselius carried the puck to the right dot, Nash battled for position in a physical struggle with defenceman Douglas Murray at the left doorstep. Nash won out, just in time to drop his stick on the ice as Huselius pinpointed a pass that Nash simply had to redirect in.
“Tonight we just played a bit more freely and played more offensively,” Nash said.
NOTES: The penalty kill units for both teams looked strong. Columbus was 0 for 4 on the power play, and San Jose 0 for 3. … The Sharks had lost in regulation in only one of their previous 14 games. … Mason won his third game in a row, a season best. … San Jose had a three-game winning streak end. … The Sharks’ Dany Heatley had a seven-game points streak end, while Nash extended his to five games.