COLUMBUS, Ohio – The past 27 days have been humiliating for Steve Mason.
That’s what made Tuesday night even sweeter.
James Wisniewski had the last of Columbus’ three shootout goals and Mason made several big stops in his first appearance after being benched for 12 games to help the Blue Jackets beat the Vancouver Canucks 2-1.
“It’s not fun sitting on the bench,” Mason said. “But sometimes it’s what you need to really refine things and to feel good again.”
Mason, playing for the first time since Nov. 15, shut out the Canucks for two periods and finished with 30 saves. The 2008-09 Calder Trophy winner stopped one of the two shooters he faced in the shootout while Mark Letestu, Rick Nash and Wisniewski all found the net against Roberto Luongo.
“I didn’t really have that much pressure on me,” said Wisniewski, now 3 of 6 in shootouts. “With Nasher and Letestu scoring in front of me and them missing one, I was either going to score to win or Mase had to save to win. You’re a little bit looser going out to the shootout knowing you don’t have to score.”
Mason, who missed three minutes of the third period due to cramping in his leg, was very good all night. In the second period, he made big stops on consecutive hard shots by Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis. Late in the period, Mason sprawled on the ice to smother a shot by Alexandre Burrows.
Mason came in 3-12-1 with a 3.63 goals-against average and .875 save percentage. Journeyman Curtis Sanford had won the No. 1 spot by going 5-4-3 with a 2.45 goals-against average and .909 save percentage, but he had given up 16 goals in his last four games.
It was time for the 23-year-old Mason to step back into action.
“It’s been a long time since I played. I’ve been hard on myself,” he said. “There’s probably nobody harder on me than I am. I expect a lot better. Tonight was a good performance. Over the last three or four weeks I think I’ve matured a lot in a lot of ways.”
Still, the Canucks, who got a goal from Maxim Lapierre midway through the third period, nearly won in overtime when Chris Higgins’ slap shot trickled through Mason’s pads. All that kept it from crossing the goal line was rookie defenceman John Moore’s right skate as he held off a forward trying to get at the loose puck.
“It was kind of a weird play,” Moore said. “I felt something hit the back of my leg, turned around and took a look and saw the puck kind of slowly going toward the goal. Fortunately enough I was able to kind of stop it and let Mase corral it in time.”
The Canucks had won four in a row, nine of 10 and their last five on the road. Still, they came up short against the team with the worst record in the NHL.
“In my mind, that’s a much better team than their record indicates,” Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said. “You can say it many times, but there are no easy games in this league. There might be a perception that we’re going to step on the ice and win it very easily. You don’t win games easily in this league. Tonight was another example.”
Jeff Carter had a power-play goal—the Blue Jackets came in last in the league with a man advantage—for an early 1-0 lead.
In the shootout, Letestu scored on a forehand before Mason stopped Cody Hodgson. After Nash faked a backhand and scored high on the stick side past Luongo, Burrows buried a shot against Mason. Wisniewski then slipped the puck past Luongo’s outstretched left leg for the winner.
And that made a winner of Mason.
“I’m just going to take it day by day,” he said. “I’m not sure when I’m going to play again, but whenever it is I’m going to make sure I’m ready again.”
NOTES: Columbus improved to 8-5-2 when scoring the first goal. … Hamhuis was held scoreless. He needs one for 200 career points. … Luongo made 29 saves.