C hris Mason’s season had not gone the way he wanted.
Going into Saturday night’s season finale against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena, the Nashville Predators goaltender was 1-6-1 with a 3.97 goals against average and a .852 save percentage through 10 games in his return to Nashville. In addition, the Predators had only won 16 of their 47 games.
However, Mason was given the start against Columbus on Saturday night.
Through the first two periods, he was perfect. The Blue Jackets registered 22 shots on goal in the first two stanzas – Mason made 22 saves.
It was quite a turnaround from his performance on Thursday night in which he gave up 5 goals in 38 shots.
“I felt great tonight,” Mason said. “You get a couple of games and you get that feeling of playing games again, you get a little bit of a comfort zone and I felt pretty good tonight.”
Mason had only played in 10 of Nashville’s 48 games prior to Saturday night. Mason admits that he was not at his best and that – despite the loss on Thursday – the game experience helped him prepare for Saturday. He rode a 1-0 lead going into his last period of the season.
“It helps a lot just to have game time,” Mason said. “I’ve said it a million times – there’s no duplicating games. You can try to do it in practice, but until you get in there and get the traffic, get the bad angle shots and everything else that goes with the game, it’s tough to recreate. Having played a game in the last little while definitely helped me feel a lot better tonight.”
Unfortunately for Mason, Columbus’ Brandon Dubinsky scored a power play goal at 10:09 of the third period. Five minutes later, the newly energized Blue Jackets scored again to take a 2-1 lead. Columbus needed a win to have a chance at the playoffs. Nashville had been eliminated for a while.
In all, the Blue Jackets peppered Mason with 25 third period shots. Unfortunately, the only 2 that he missed made the difference. Columbus added an empty net goal at the end for insurance and the Blue Jackets took a 3-1 win to keep their playoff hopes alive. Ultimately, the night would end poorly for Columbus, as well, as both Detroit and Minnesota won, leaving them on the outside looking in as the season came to a close.
“Obviously, you don’t like losing, but sometimes you play hard and you end up losing games,” Mason said. “You saw a desperate team there. That’s the way they’ve been playing all year. They never give up. They scrap and claw. They threw everything at us in the third period. They won the game and did their part and I know now they probably need some help from other teams, but they did all they could and that’s what they’ve been doing all year.”
Mason stopped 44 of 46 shots in the game, but was still saddled with the loss.
“It’s tough,” Mason said. “I don’t know if it’s an awkward situation, but they had so much to play for, but standings-wise, we had nothing to play for. You just saw the desperation that they had been playing with and they’ve been doing that for the last month-and-a-half here. They just kept it at a level that we really couldn’t keep up with the whole game. That’s just the way it goes. We really would have loved to win that game, but in all honesty, they deserved to win that game.”
“(It was) maybe his best game of the year,” Nashville head coach Barry Trotz said. “He was as good as he’s been all year. I wish we would have got at least a point for him, maybe two for him. He had some huge saves.”
Mason agreed that the game was one of his better performances on the season, despite the loss.
“I haven’t played a lot,” Mason said. “I had a couple of good games to start the year and then I had a couple of not so good ones. Tonight was definitely one of the best.”
Chris Mason will be a free agent in July. He has played for Nashville on numerous different occasions since the team’s inaugural season. Saturday may have been his last game ever in a Predators jersey.
“One of the things I can say about Chris Mason – and I’ve had Chris a couple of times – he’s as good of a pro player as you’re going to find,” Trotz said. “When you talk about a pro player on and off the ice, I think he has a great work ethic. I believe he has some hockey in the future as a player or development coach or goalie coach. He’s going to be in the game. He’s a bright young guy who has a tremendous work ethic. It’s been a pleasure to be with him all the times we’ve had him.”
Photo Credit: Sarah Fuqua