Going into last night's game at the Honda Center, virtually the entire hockey community expected Mathieu Garon to get the start. After all, it was the first of two back to back games,especially since Mason is historically a better goalie vs. the San Jose Sharks than Garon.
Imagine the surprise, then, when Steve Mason was the first goaltender off the ice after warmups last night. He'd turned in an excellent performance against Los Angeles, but would he be able to repeat against Anaheim, riding a home win streak and looking to rebound from a road SO loss?
It certainly didn't hurt that while Anaheim put on the pressure early, it would be the Jackets who got onto the board first, just pad the middle of the first period. As the Jackets changed up on the fly, Derick Brassard hustled his way past Lubomir Visnovsky to beat an icing call, and took the puck around the back of the Ducks' offensive zone. Sliding his way back up the ice he made a fantastic little bloop pass to Nash past the Anaheim defense, which Rick Nash picked up in mid-stride down the ice, hitting the slot unchallenged, and the Captain wristed it past Hiller's glove for the 1-0 lead.
The Jackets played a near perfect road period to open the game, bending, but not breaking, until a pair of penalties in the dying minute - first Jan Hejda taking a hooking call, drawn behind his own net, and then as the 5 on 4 PK started, Corey Perry would get tripped up while camping around the crease - Marc Methot was penalized, but it looked an awful lot like the Duck winger actually got caught by Steve Mason's goalie stick.
The Jackets went to the locker room up 1-0 at the end of one, but with nearly a minute and a half of 5-on-3 to kill.
Unfortunately, the Ducks spent a good bit of their intermission figuring out how to take the best advantage of their man advantage.
As the period began, the Jackets got an early clear, but Teemu Selanne was able to take a good lead pass from Saku Koivu back into the zone, beating his way past Umberger and Pahlsson as Klesla attempted to back up to take away his shooting lane. Unfortunately, because of how the defense responded to Selanne, it gave Koivu a chance to set up at the side of the net. Selanne would return the favor with a beautiful pass between Umberger and Pahlsson to his waiting countryman, and the Finn on Finn action allowed Koivu to tap the puck past Mason as he attempted to get his leg pad out a moment too late.
The Jackets would attempt to get themselves back into the game the old fashioned way - brutally! Sheldon Brookbank took a few liberties with Derek Dorsett as the two teams jockeyed for position, and Dorsett answered the bell in a fight that...well...let's just say it's good that Dorse was able to draw the additional penalty, as Brookbank pretty clearly took him to school. (That'll happen when you fight a guy with four inches and fourty pounds on you.) That fight would be the 22nd fighting major for the Ducks this season, putting them in a tie with Pittsburgh for the league lead.
In a classic "Oh, no" moment, the power play did not start well. Todd Marchant would spring the puck free of the first power play unit, firing it out almost to center ice, where Bobby Ryan was able to get the angle on Rick Nash and beat him to the puck just above the faceoff circles. Mason came out to challenge, but Ryan was able to slap the puck up past Mason's stick side as it took a hop towards his stick.
For all the frustration of another shorthanded goal? You have to admire the sheer talent that Ryan showed on the play. He really never had "control" of the puck until the moment he shot it - he did most of the work chasing the loose puck and getting good body position to deny Nash a clean opportunity to check it away.
I hope none of you pulled an Elvis on your TV, though, or you'd have missed the best part.
This time, the Jackets would get a chance to set up properly, and had some nice cycling going around the top and sides of the zone before Filatov would slip a pass through the Ducks' PK unit to Commodore, who fired a hard slapper through traffic which Chris Clark would deflect in for the tying goal on the power play. The assist would be Commodore's 100th NHL point.
Anaheim attempted to turn up the pressure with more physical play, but the Jackets stayed calm, and drew another penalty, this time a hook as Teemu Selanne attempted to break up an attempt by Kyle Wilson to drive to the Anaheim Net, and while the power play did not connect, it gave the team a bit more jump.
Kyle Palmieri would make a mistake that sparked the Jackets forward, getting the puck caught in his skates as he attempted to enter the zone, and Kris Russell would flip the puck away as the Duck centerman slid across the ice, then making a good lead pass to Andrew Murray, who lead a three on two into Ducks' offensive zone with Pahlsson and Voracek. Pahlsson would fire a shot on Hiller from just inside the left faceoff circle, Hiller would make the pad save but the puck would go right to Jake Voracek, who cleaned up the rebound into a wide open net for the 3-2 lead.
Just in case things weren't crazy enough, as the Jackets continued to find ways to control the puck in the Ducks' zone late in the period, Kyle Wilson would win a battle with George Parros and Ryan Carter, poking the puck between them to a waiting Chris Clark at the boards. Clark would pass back to Wilson, who slid behind the Anaheim net, then flipped the puck to Mike Commodore at the blue line. Deuces would fire the puck back at the net a heartbeat after the puck reached his stick, and the puck sailed through traffic, eventually going into the net after redirecting off Carter's stick for the 4-2 lead.
The Jackets would take a 4-2 lead into the dressing room, and if you were one of the lucky few to stay up, you heard a great deal of rather excited buzzing from Jackets fans.
What we didn't know was that the show had barely begun.
Anaheim would come out of the tunnel for the third period like a pack of enraged hornets, aggressively challenging for the puck and dominating possession for the bulk of the period. The Jackets would not help their cause with a boarding penalty on Jan Hejda early in the period, but the PK (and more importantly, Steve Mason), were solid, turning away three shots.
With the successful PK, the Jackets seemed to be making themselves a bit of breathing room when a mental mistake cost them. Derick Brassard corralled a puck behind his own net, and attempted to get it away from Bobby Ryan by rapidly changing direction, then attempted to turn AGAIN to evade Ryan Getzlaf.
Anyone who has ever played Pac-Man will tell you that when you're trapped on both sides of a corridor, it won't end well.
Brass attempted a bit of a shimmy-shake move to keep the puck rather than just passing it away from trouble, and got burned. The puck slid free of his control, took a bit of a bounce off Marc Methot's skate and popped out at the side of the goal post, and Steve Mason attempted the freeze the puck, then had to throw himself back in the other direction when Corey Perry got ahold of it, and was unable to stop the shot. The Ducks pulled within one, and the tension level both in the arena and from online observers cranked up a notch.
Smelling blood, or perhaps the aroma of fresh baked bread in the water (after all, we are talking about mallards), the Ducks hammered Mason for another twenty one shots in the next 13 minutes, for a total of 25 shots on the period.
After the Perry goal, Steve Mason stopped every single one.
The performance set a record for saves in a period by a Blue Jackets netminder, and came one save away from tying a franchise record for most saves in a single game.
Just when you thought it was over, though, it wasn't. Even as the final horn blew to announce the Jackets' 4-3 victory, Corey Perry decided that what he really needed to do was slash Antoine Vermette in the back of the legs.
When Vermette failed to respond to that provocation, Perry decided to drop any pretenses, and sucker-punched the Jackets' centerman. Both sides got involved at that point, with players squaring off for what would have basically been a line brawl, but the officials got things under control quickly, refusing to allow it to escalate.
With the taste of victory (and perhaps just a bit of blood) in their mouths, the battered but unbeaten Jackets rightfully celebrated the incredible performance by Steve Mason before preparing to make their way to San Jose.
- Steve Mason - Can't say enough about Mason here. Seriously. There will be people who go "Oh, well he let in 3 goals. He's still not -really- back to where he should be." These people are idiots who ignore the fact that he faced 50 shots. An incredible game by Mase, particularly with several stops on the doorstep and against wraparound attempts.
- Mike Commodore - Don't look now, but the Big Red One has three points in his first two games back, including the GWG tonight. Commie was right up there again with ice time as well, and seems to be getting the rest of his rust off. If the post-game scrum had escalated to a full on fight, Commie would have gotten the Gordie Howe Hat Trick.
- Nikita Filatov - Filatov had another good game controlling and managing the puck, and tallied another assist tonight - even if he hasn't directly found the back of the net, that makes a four game assist streak for the young Russian. That'll do just fine, Nikki.
Bottom Of The Barrel:
- Corey Perry - Fight like a man, or don't fight at all. Even better were his post-game commends: "50 shots, you should get more than three goals. That falls on us, not on Mason being so good." Jeez, try to give the man a little credit, eh?
- The Injury Bug - Derek Dorsett did not return to the bench after the second period. No word from the team yet on his condition, but I have a bad feeling. I'm wondering if he may have injured his hand in the fight with Brookbank, but we'll have to see what the team discloses. If he can't go, and Anton Stralman is in game shape, perhaps the team goes 11 forwards and 7 D? Or, if Derek MacKenzie is ready, he could theoretically slot in there somewhere.
- The Third Period - A mixed bag here. The team did a great job of not knuckling under, but Anaheim was able to really control that third frame. Jackets need to get their wind back tonight for San Jose.
The Jackets took the redeye flight to San Jose last night and will take on the Sharks this evening at 10pm EST. The Jackets have earned 4 of the 6 possible points this trip, without giving up any charity points in return. Everyone was saying this trip to the West Coast would be a success if they could deliver 3 points, let alone 4. If they can go three for three, is it time to start saying this team is for real?