NEWARK, N.J. – Although a lot has been written about Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes being the future of the New Jersey Devils, rookie goalkeeper Mackenzie Blackwood is undoubtedly the club's best player.
Blackwood achieved a career par 52 and stopped six of seven shootout attempts to lead the Devils 4-3 over the shuffling Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday evening.
"We had over 30 chances to score," said Columbus coach John Tortorella after his club lost their fifth straight (0-2, 3). “Blackwood was the story of the game. We had more Grade As tonight than in three or four weeks of our offensive attack. "
The win was Blackwood's 19th of the season and he has won all but three of New Jersey's. He is 5-0-1 in his last six starts, a period that includes consecutive shutdowns.
"I do it one shot at a time and today was a perfect example of when it didn't go well for me in the beginning. I was just trying to make it one stop at a time," said Blackwood.
Nikita Gusev and Jesper Bratt scored in the tie-breaker for New Jersey that defeated the Blue Jackets for the first time in 10 meetings. The Devils' previous 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 a few lines," said Travis Zajac Veterans Center. "Merk and Joey, it started and played with energy. It is good that we are back and get some positive energy going. However, Blackie was there to close the door. "
Andrew Peeke, Zach Werenski and Kevin Stenlund provided the goals for the Blue Jackets. Elvis Merzlikins stopped 23 shots when he lost his second straight.
"I have to be careful," said Tortorella. "You can't be frustrated. I thought for a lot of this game we developed our offense and had good controls. We just have to stick with it."
Merzlikins stopped Damon Severson and Hughes twice in the first 1:26 of extra time.
The game was played just over two hours after the Devils' announcement that they had defender and captain Andy Greene exchanged for a prospect and a draft pick for the second round in 2021 for the Islanders.
In the third phase, the Devils announced that they sent 21-goal scorer Blake Coleman to Junior Bay prospect Nolan Foote and a selection for the first round this year at Tampa Bay Lightning.
"It's really an emotional day for all of us," said Blackwood. “We lost two big parts to our team – especially Andy. Since I've been here, he's been a leader in the room. "
Stenlund linked it to 3 and hit Blackwood on his blue line just after sales in New Jersey.
After a listless first period, the Devils scored three goals in the second, leading 3-2.
Anderson scored his second goal of the season with a shot from the right circle at 1:20. Merkley, who was taken over from Arizona's Taylor Hall deal this season, scored his first NHL rebound less than three minutes later.
Palmieri put New Jersey in the lead with his 22nd team-level goal. There was a counterattack on a shot from the right circle.
Blackwood was at its best in the second phase, stopping 20 shots, including at least half a dozen Grade A opportunities nearby.
Columbus was by far the best team in the first half and led 2-0 against Peeke and Werenski.
Peeke's goal in a rebound was his first in the NHL. Werenski scored his 18th place among the defenders this season with a shot above the left circle.