– by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief
NEWARK, N.J. — New Jersey Devils goaltender MacKenzie Blackwood knows that the rich vain of form he and his team are in will not last forever, but it has lasted long enough to give the team hope that a run towards a playoff spot in 2019 is anything but far-fetched.
Blackwood, making just his sixth career NHL appearance, made 25 saves in recording his second consecutive shutout, leading the Devils to a 4-0 victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Monday afternoon at the Prudential Center. Miles Wood and Sami Vatanen each had a goal and an assist for New Jersey.
Just last weekend, Blackwood, New Jersey’s second-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, came on in relief of regular started Keith Kinkaid during a 3-0 home loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Devils’ sixth loss in their last eight games that saw them move into the Eastern Conference cellar. Since then, Blackwood has started each of New Jersey’s last three games, all wins, and, in recording shutouts against the Hurricanes on Saturday and Vancouver today, became the first Devils goaltender to record back-to-back shutouts since Martin Brodeur did so in April 2010.
“You’re just trying to be as focused as you can. Take every shot as it comes,” said Blackwood, who became the first Devils rookie net minder to record consecutive shutouts. “I’m a big believer in staying in the moment and not getting ahead of yourself and not getting down on yourself, getting too high on yourself. Right now, I’m feeling like I’m seeing the puck well. The team is playing good in front of me, so things are going good.”
New Jersey withstood early pressure from Vancouver, with the help of some saves by Blackwood, and got on the board with a Brian Boyle goal off a rebound that squirted past Canucks goalkeeper Anders Nilsson at 12:03 of the first period for a 1-0 lead.
The Devils doubled the advantage on the power play with 1:48 remaining in the first period, with a Miles Wood one-time slap shot off of a feed by Sami Vatanen beating Nilsson top shelf. The pair reversed roles on another power play goal to start the third period, with Wood setting up Vatanen for a one-time shot from the blue line that gave the Devils a 3-0 lead. Two minutes later, Pavel Zacha scored his seventh of the season to complete the scoring.
New Jersey was outshot 21-13 after the first two periods, but its defense held up, especially on the penalty kill, as it killed all four of Vancouver’s man-up opportunities in the contest, Three of those power plays for the Canucks came in the first 40 minutes.
“I’d say the last three games, we’ve been very consistent,” said Devils head coach John Hynes. “I think it’s really a combination. We’ve played better defensively, we’ve had very good goaltending, we’ve had timely goaltending. That also helps, when you get that out of the goaltending, it helps guys just do their job. They settle in, they do their job, they play the system, they don’t try to do too much.
“It starts to become a trust factor in the way that you want to play with and the structure that you play,” Hynes continued. “Everyone can do their job. Usually when you do that, and you’re committed to it, you’re going to be in good position and good structure and have less breakdowns.”
Vancouver, playing its third game of a six-game road trip, had won the first two contests, in Edmonton and Calgary, before falling today. Each of their final three remaining games on the trip are in Canada, taking on the Ottawa Senators and Montréal Canadiens on Jan. 2 and Jan. 3 before playing in Toronto on Saturday.