WASHINGTON - Forty-five minutes before the game, Steve Mason was sequestered in the Columbus Blue Jackets' training room. Unbeknownst to his teammates, who were already preparing to finish a six-game trip without eight injured regulars, the rookie goalie was in danger of sitting out because of upper-body muscle spasms.
But Mason shook off the pain, then disposed of one of the NHL's most dangerous offensive clubs.
Mason made 45 saves for his sixth shutout of the season and the injury-depleted Blue Jackets beat Washington 3-0 on Friday night, ending the Capitals' winning streak at seven games.
"It's huge for us," Mason said. "Obviously, with a lot of guys out of the lineup it was a big opportunity for other guys to step up. They did that. We had a down first period, but the guys bounced back in the second and the third."
R.J. Umberger, Fedor Tyutin and Jared Boll scored, and Manny Maholtra had two assists for the Blue Jackets, who were missing leading scorers Rick Nash and Kristian Huselius. Nash, selected Wednesday to the Western Conference all-star team, has a lower-body injury, while Huselius is out with concussion.
Just how close Mason came to joining the ranks of the injured, however, was a closely guarded secret.
"Seriously? I thought he was in the whole day," Umberger said when informed that Mason was iffy. "Whatever they worked on, they seemed to work it out. He can decide every day at 6:20 if you're going to play like that."
Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock acknowledged that Mason was "close" to being pulled from the starting assignment. With backup Pascal Leclaire on injured reserve with a sore ankle, that would have meant turning to untested rookie Dan LaCosta, who was called up from Syracuse of the American Hockey League when Leclaire went down.
"I think everybody knew our situation and I think we gained a lot of confidence by surviving the first period," Hitchcock said. "I think a lot of our young guys were in awe of what was going on and I think we were nervous and wondering what the heck was going to happen. We never even had one line that was a line a week ago."
The Blue Jackets ended Washington's home winning streak at nine, dropping the Capitals to 18-2-1 at Verizon Center.
"It has to happen one day," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "You get snakebitten. But good teams rebound from it and, hopefully, we're a good team."
The Blue Jackets clogged the passing lanes and limited Washington's dangerous offence to low-percentage perimeter shots, but the Capitals still piled up a 45-23 shots advantage. It was Mason's second shutout over Washington this season; he previously beat the Capitals 3-0 on Nov. 29 at Columbus.
"That's something we've been doing all year long," said Mason, who stymied 12 shots by Washington's Alex Ovechkin.
"Our defencemen, I don't think they get enough credit. They do a great job in front of me. They make sure that the opportunities they do get aren't the highest quality. When I do make a save and they get a rebound, they make sure there's not a second opportunity."
The Capitals held an 18-4 edge in shots after the opening 20 minutes, but Umberger's 12th goal put Columbus ahead 9:27 into the first. Washington's Jose Theodore stopped Jakub Voracek at the right post, but Umberger poked in a loose puck through a maze of players from in front.
Washington defenceman Karl Alzner said the Capitals couldn't adjust to Columbus' patient, trapping defence.
"Their style of game is frustrating," Alzner said. "They're trapping and they're very tight defensively. If you don't get a goal quickly on them, they get a lot of confidence and get rolling."
At 18:06 of the second period, with Washington's Milan Jurcina off for holding, Tyutin converted on a power play for a 2-0 lead. From the right, Tyutin one-timed Maholtra's cross-ice feed.
Washington's best chance to score came 14:41 remaining and Mason shifting to defend the right post. The puck bounced to David Steckel to the left of the goal, but Steckel pushed a shot off the left post and the rebound skittered behind the cage.
With 5:09 left, Boll's power-play goal made it 3-0. Washington defenceman Mike Green clanged a power-play chance off the right post with 2:21 left and Mason gobbled up Ovechkin's long wrister through traffic with 1:14 remaining.
Notes: Mason has made 71 saves in his two shutout victories over Washington. ... Seven of Umberger's goals have come against Eastern Conference foes. He had 13 goals in 74 games with Philadelphia last season. ... Earlier Friday, the Capitals recalled D Tyler Sloan from Hershey of the AHL. He replaced D Jeff Schultz (finger) in the lineup. ... C Sergei Fedorov, who had missed 26 of 29 games with an ankle sprain, and LW Tomas Fleischmann, who sat out six games with pneumonia, rejoined the Washington lineup. ... Capitals C Boyd Gordon sustained a back injury in warmups and did not play.