Backup goalie Mason steps into playoffs like a veteran

Updated: April 22, 2006, 8:03 PM ET
Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Chris Mason's stick was gone, and the San Jose Sharks had pulled their goalie for the extra attacker, trying to tie it in the final minute.

So much for postseason inexperience.

Chris Mason
Mason

Mason grabbed a stick from Nashville defenseman Dan Hamhuis, then turned away the last of the 16 shots he faced in the goal, sealing the Predators' 4-3 victory over the Sharks in the opener of their Western Conference playoff series.

"When it was all over, it was a pretty big relief," Mason said Saturday.

Mason, the backup goalie elevated to No. 1 after a rare blood condition ended Tomas Vokoun's season, proved more than capable of handling the postseason pressure as the Predators gained their first playoff lead going into Game 2 on Sunday in Nashville.

Of his 31 saves, Mason faced 10 shots from San Jose's top line of NHL scoring champion Joe Thornton, goal leader Jonathan Cheechoo and Nils Ekman.

"The bottom line is it's only one game. I feel like I'm going to get better as it goes on," Mason said. "We intend on trying to prove people wrong as a team and myself."

The Sharks readily agree Mason is a good goalie.

They are busy blaming themselves for allowing the Predators to go 4-of-7 with the man advantage, taking three penalties in their offensive zone -- the last for too many men on the ice that set up the winner with 7:54 left.

San Jose coach Ron Wilson said the Sharks pretty much had control when playing even-strength.

"We've just got to stay out of the box, and if we're in the box, we've got to do a better job killing penalties," he said.

Penalties were the Sharks' undoing, unusual for the NHL's third-least penalized team. Wilson said they were frustrated.

"Some calls weren't going our way. Ek [Ekman] got a hooking call late in the first period after Jonathan basically was tackled coming out of the corner. Sometimes you react, 'If that's not a penalty, I'll do the same thing.' And you get caught on the second time," Wilson said.

"A little more discipline from us will be OK."

Cheechoo, who led the NHL with 56 goals in the regular season, said they must get more traffic in front of Mason.

"We're going to try to send a few guys in there and try to get in his face so he has to move back in the net. He's challenging a lot of shots right now, staying up in the top of the crease. You get a body in there to try to move him back ... and hopefully things will start to go in," Cheechoo said.

The Sharks are confident, having won 16 of 22 games since the trade deadline to earn the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference. But they have lost six of seven first-round series when dropping the opener and never have won a series after falling down 0-2.

"We're a team that's pretty resilient," Wilson said. "We showed that this year, and now, I mean, I would've loved to have won both games in Nashville. We've got to try and get a split."

A big key will be getting more pressure on Paul Kariya.

The Predators left wing had four assists in Game 1, including the main assist on the last three goals. He has 11 points in his last four games, and Nashville coach Barry Trotz said Kariya is capable of being a dominant player.

"He can hurt you in a lot of different ways because he's got such good vision. He's got such good hockey sense. He knows and feels pressure. He knows what the situation is and studies the game," Trotz said.

"That's why he's been a top player in this league a long, long time."


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press