NEWARK, N.J. (AP)While there has been a lot written about No. 1 overall draft selections Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes being the New Jersey Devils’ future, there is no doubt rookie goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood is the club’s best player.
Blackwood made a career-high 52 saves and stopped six of seven attempts in the shootout to lead the Devils over the scuffling Columbus Blue Jackets 4-3 Sunday night.
”We had over 30 scoring chances,” Columbus coach John Tortorella said after his club lost its fifth straight (0-2-3). ”Blackwood was the story of the game. We had more Grade As tonight than we had in three or four weeks in our offensive attack.”
The win was Blackwood’s 19th of the season, and he has all but three of New Jersey’s victories. He is 5-0-1 in his last six starts, a span that includes consecutive shutouts.
”I take it one shot at a time and today was a perfect example of when it was not going good for me at the start, I just tried to take it one stop at a time,” Blackwood said.
Nikita Gusev and Jesper Bratt scored in the tiebreaker for New Jersey, which beat the Blue Jackets for the first time in 10 meetings. The previous Devils victory over Columbus came in December 2017.
Pierre-Luc Dubois had the only shootout goal for the Blue Jackets.
Joey Anderson, Nicholas Merkley and Kyle Palmieri scored for the Devils in regulation.
”We had some lines going,” veteran center Travis Zajac said. ”Merk and Joey, that got it started and played with energy. Good to get us back in it and get some positive energy going. Blackie was there to shut the door, though.”
Andrew Peeke, Zach Werenski and Kevin Stenlund provided the goals for the Blue Jackets. Elvis Merzlikins stopped 23 shots in losing his second straight.
”I need to be careful,” Tortorella said. ”You can’t get frustrated. I thought for a big part of that game we developed our offense and had good checking. We just have to stay with it.”
Merzlikins stopped Damon Severson and Hughes twice in close in the opening 1:26 of overtime.
The game was played a little more than two hours after the Devils announced they had traded defenseman and captain Andy Greene to the New York Islanders for a prospect and a second-round draft pick in 2021.
In the third period, the Devils announced they sent 21-goal scorer Blake Coleman to the Tampa Bay Lightning for junior hockey prospect Nolan Foote and a first-round pick this year.
”It’s really kind of an emotional day for all of us,” Blackwood said. ”We lost two big parts to our team – especially Andy. He’s been a leader in the room ever since I’ve been here.”
Stenlund tied it at 3, beating Blackwood in close after a New Jersey turnover at its blue line.
After a listless first period, the Devils scored three times in the second to take a 3-2 lead.
Anderson scored his second of the season on a shot from the right circle at 1:20. Merkley, acquired from Arizona in the Taylor Hall deal this season, got his first NHL goal on a rebound less than three minutes later to tie it.
Palmieri put New Jersey in front with his team-high 22nd goal. It came on a counterattack on a shot from inside the right circle.
Blackwood was at his best in the second period when he stopped 20 shots, including at least a half-dozen Grade-A chances in close.
Columbus was by far the best team in the first period, taking a 2-0 lead on goals by Peeke and Werenski.
Peeke’s goal on a rebound was his first in the NHL. Werenski got his 18th – tops among defensemen this season – on a shot from above the left circle.
NOTES: Mirco Mueller took over Greene’s spot on the top defensive pairing with P.K. Subban. … Hischier returned to the lineup after missing six games with a lower-body injury. … Pierre-Luc Dubois kicked a puck into the net seconds after Anderson’s goal. It was quickly waved off. … The 55 shots allowed were the most by the Devils this season.
Blue Jackets: At Philadelphia on Tuesday.
Devils: At St. Louis on Tuesday.
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