At the start of last night's game against the Minnesota Wild, two things made people think "alright, this game is already lost." The first was the fact that the Blue Jackets wore their third jerseys that had been deemed "cursed" by the team and were thought to never be worn again. The second was that struggling goalie Steve Mason was back in net after being pulled in three of his last four starts..
However, neither of those circumstances led to defeat, as the Blue Jackets were able to pull out a 4-3 shootout victory. Mason was given the game's first star, as he stopped 37 of 40 Wild shots and came up with some big saves late in the game.
Mason allowed a quick first goal on only the third shot by Minnesota and the big question was how he would bounce back. He could not get down on himself as this was seen as a "must-win game" for the Blue Jackets, who are trying to stay relevant in the West. Before the game, goaltending coach Dave Rook stated that Mason had dug this hole, and was the only one who could get himself out. Mason must have taken those words to heart because he did not let the early goal get to him.
"After having the first go in, I just tried to bear down and make sure to keep it out as long as possible," Mason said. "And for myself, it's a big win, but for the team, it's an even bigger win."
The Blue Jackets were not doing Mason any favors as Minnesota had seven different power play opportunities. Several of these power plays were because of stupid Columbus penalties, including Derick Brassard receiving a two minute holding penalty for holding a Wild player's stick from the bench.
Even with the penalties, the Jackets still held on to a 3-2 lead late in the third and were looking to put the nail in the coffin. However, Mason let a bad bounce go in to tie the game up at three with under ten minutes to go. Mason stayed focused and came up big for his team, stopping several more Minnesota chances before heading into overtime.
Late in the overtime, Mason robbed Minnesota Captain Mikko Koivu of the game winner and took the game to a shootout. He finally got some help as Columbus' Rick Nash, Kyle Wilson and Kristian Huselius all scored in the shootout to lead the Jackets to victory.
Columbus coach Scott Arniel said after the game "Steve gave us a chance to win, he made some stops in the shootout and overtime. He made some stops early in the game and in the penalty situation in the second period. Hopefully, confidence-wise, it's a good jolt for him."
For the Blue Jackets, the win was big, but for Mason, the win was huge. This is only Mason's second win since November 22. Mason has not looked good in his last few starts. Against Calgary two weeks ago, Mason was pulled only four and a half minutes in as he allowed two easy goals. Later in the week, Mason looked awful against the last place Oilers, allowing six goals, three of them in the second period.
Mason must now take the confidence gained with this hard fought victory and use it to put together some consistent play. He has to show the coaching staff, his teammates and the fans that he can handle the pressure of being the team's number one goalie. If he continues to be so-so, the Blue Jackets may soon pull the plug and say enough is enough.
In my opinion, Mason has shown that he can be a good goaltender, but he has to be able to give Columbus a chance to win night in and night out. In the Western Conference, two points could be the difference between fourth and tenth place, and if Mason cannot become consistent, we will only see Columbus fall lower and lower.
Look for Mason to get his second straight start on Thursday, when the Blue Jackets travel north to take on Toronto.