Steve Mason: Better Late Than Never As Blue Jackets Make Push for Playoffs

Patrick Drottar@pdrottarCorrespondent IFebruary 23, 2011

DALLAS, TX - FEBRUARY 13:  Goaltender Steve Mason #1 of the Columbus Blue Jackets walks to the ice before a game against the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center on February 13, 2011 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Just think: 19 days ago, on February 4, before a game in Detroit, rumors spread like wildfire that Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Steve Mason, among others, were on the trading block. 

Columbus was just starting to turn their game around after a dismal December and January and found themselves eight points out of the final Western Conference playoff spot.

Everyone else in the league considered them goners and waited for them to announce they were buyers come trade deadline.

Now, flash forward to last night. 

The Jackets now sit two points out of the final playoff spot, as Mason turned away all 20 shots and recorded his second shutout against the hated rival Nashville Predators.

This is Mason's third shutout of the year and his sixth win in his last eight starts.

Mason looked incredible as Columbus cruised to the 4-0 victory. The first two periods were a stalemate, until the third when the Jackets pulled away and scored more goals (four) than the Predators had shots (three).

"For myself, it was just to stay focused and make the timely saves," Mason said. 

"It was a tight game so your focus was always there. When it is a tight game like that it is pretty easy to stay focused.”

His lateral movement from post-to-post was picture perfect as he shut down the Predators' scoring chances all night, including two power-play opportunities.

The highlight of the night came in the first period, when Mason slid across the crease to stop Jordin Tootoo's point-blank, back-handed shot to keep it a scoreless game.

Since those trade rumors surfaced, Mason has gone 6-1, including two shutouts and has helped make believers of the rest of the league that the Blue Jackets are very much alive in the playoff race. 

Mason has posted a 0.948 save percentage and is finally beginning to hit his stride late in the season.

Mason has struggled throughout this season and many thought he was not worth the contract extension he had received last summer. Game in and game out, fans and players did not know which Steve Mason they were going to get.

There were games where Mason was quick on his feet and was able to keep the Jackets in the game. But there were others where he looked slowed and was dominated by opposing offenses.

Now it seems Mason is finally forming the consistency that the Jackets have been waiting for. Instead of sharing time with back up Mathieu Garon, Mason is starting to get more and more starts and showing the coaching staff why he deserves to be the number one goaltender.

There could not be a more crucial time for Mason to come up big, as the Blue Jackets are coming up on one of their most important stretches this season. The team will embark on a five-game western road trip after their game Friday against Phoenix at Nationwide.

The road trip includes matchups with three teams that sit ahead of Columbus in the standings and will make or break the Blue Jackets' playoff hopes. The Jackets will rely heavily on Mason's stellar play of late as they hope to stay alive.

The Jackets are currently two points out of the eighth and final playoff spot and need as many points as they can get.