Steve Mason may be a rookie, but the Columbus Blue Jackets goalie plays with the poise and maturity of a veteran.
Mason made 18 saves to earn his NHL-leading seventh shutout of the season in guiding the Columbus Blue Jackets to a 1-0 win over the visiting Ottawa Senators on Friday night.
The 20-year-old goalie from Oakville, Ont., improved his record to 19-11-2 on the season, further solidifying his candidacy for the Calder Trophy, awarded to the league's top rookie at the end of the season — he boasts a league-best 1.98 goals-against average in 32 games, and ranks fifth in save percentage (.928).
Mason made great saves on Antoine Vermette, Brian Lee, Alexandre Picard and Dany Heatley in the third period as the Senators pressed for the tying goal.
The victory pushed the Blue Jackets, who have never qualified for the playoffs since entering the league in 2000, into a tie for fifth place in the Western Conference.
"The most important thing for myself is getting us in a playoff position and we did that tonight," Mason said. "Obviously, we just want to keep moving forward with it. Shutouts are nice to get on a personal note, but they don't really mean anything in the end."
While Mason has been on a hot streak, Ottawa netminder Alex Auld has lost eight games in a row and sports a porous 9-12-5 record.
Blue Jackets rookie winger Jakub Voracek scored the only goal of the game.
"Steve Mason had an outstanding game," Voracek said. "He made a couple of big saves in the third period. It doesn't matter if it's 1-0 or 5-4; it's still two points for us."
The teams combined for 18 shots on net in the first period, but Auld and Mason turned aside every puck that came their way. Auld was playing for the first time since Jan. 6.
"Against that team you're not going to create a lot of scoring chances, but in the third we did have a couple of quality ones," Ottawa coach Craig Hartsburg said. "That's what it comes down to against a team like Columbus — you need to score on your chances because you're not going to get many."
Tempers boil over
Tempers boiled over early in the second period when a multi-player scuffle erupted after the Blue Jackets' R.J. Umberger shouldered Ottawa's Jason Smith into the boards. Senators winger Chris Neil was given a game misconduct and an additional two-minute minor for roughing, while teammate Jarkko Ruutu was hit with a five-minute major for fighting and a 10-minute misconduct penalty.
Umberger was also given a five-minute fighting penalty, but the Blue Jackets walked away from the melee with a power play. Three seconds after their man-advantage ended, Voracek tipped Michael Peca's point shot by Auld at 3:55.
That was all the offence the Blue Jackets needed, as Mason turned away eight shots and the Blue Jackets killed off three Ottawa power plays in the third period.
The Senators visit the Washington Capitals on Sunday before returning to Ottawa and kicking off a three-game homestand on Tuesday against the Los Angeles Kings.