One of the keys behind St. Louis Blues' run? Goalie Chris Mason

March, 24, 2009

We talked to you last week about the amazing second-half surge of the St. Louis Blues, but we didn't really tell you about one of the guys playing a central role in that story.

"Chris Mason has just been tremendous," Blues GM Larry Pleau told on Monday.

Mr. Mason will be in goal Tuesday night against Los Angeles for a 24th consecutive game, hoping to help maintain one of the NHL's best stories. Mason has gone 16-7-5 in his past 28 games with three shutouts, a .925 save percentage and a 2.08 goals-against average -- mind-numbing numbers.

"It's a funny thing; it's such a fine line," Mason told us after practice Monday. "But just getting the opportunity to play all the games and knowing that I'm going back in regardless of a tough outing, that's huge. You get into that comfort zone, and the game kind of slows down in front of you."

The Blues acquired Mason from Nashville in June 2008, figuring he'd give veteran Manny Legace a real push for the No. 1 job. Both goalies struggled at times in the first half of the season. A disgruntled Legace eventually was sent to the minors. But Mason finally took off around midseason and hasn't looked back.

"I think it took him a little bit of time to get comfortable, but since the first part of January, he's just been tremendous," Pleau said. "We just finished a road trip where we played three games in four nights, and he played three games which gave us a chance to win them all."

Mason struggled last season in Nashville, eventually losing his starting job to Dan Ellis (who subsequently lost it to Pekka Rinne this season). The trade to the Blues helped Mason refocus.

"This year, I feel I've been more patient than I was last year," Mason said. "I learned a lot from having a down year last season. As soon as I got home last summer, I worked with [assistant coach/goalie coach] Rick Wamsley on how to get that patience back in my game. It seems like it's all coming together at the end here."

He's been the man for 23 games and counting. Pleau chuckled at a recent conversation.

"I remember talking to the coaches about three weeks ago and they're asking me, 'When do we give him a rest?' And I said, 'I don't see any time to give him a rest. Just let him keep playing,'" Pleau said, laughing. "He's been great, he really has -- personality-wise, leadership in the room, experience -- he's been terrific."

Before a huge win in Calgary on Friday night, the end of a tough three-game trip in Western Canada, Mason was among the players coach Andy Murray singled out to speak to the team. And speak Mason did.

"I was given the opportunity to speak, and I just talked about how much the team meant to me and how much of an honor it is to play with these guys," Mason said. "I just think we're the kind of group that's the true definition of the word 'team.' We need everybody to win. We don't have the top-10 scorer that's going to single-handedly win us some games. We truly need all of our guys."

The fans in St. Louis have responded, sitting 11th in NHL attendance at an average of 18,481 per home date, up from 13th last season and 30th in 2006-07.

"The buzz here and the fans have been unbelievable," Mason said.

The lunch-bucket Blues are hanging in there, folks, with a gutsy goalie leading the way. They've got three weeks left to complete the Hollywood script.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer



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