NEWARK, N.J. — As has often been the case during a trying season that promised so much more at its onset, a trip inside the New Jersey Devils locker room — even after a rousing win such as the one they earned tonight — quickly centered around what the team had just lost, as an inexorable plunge into a fire sale hit another climax.
Moments after captain Andy Greene and stalwart two-way forward Blake Coleman were traded away, the Devils regrouped from allowing two goals in the game’s first 10 minutes and rebounded to take a 4-3 shootout victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets at the Prudential Center on Sunday evening. Despite allowing three goals, goalkeeper MacKenzie Blackwood was stellar in making 55 saves to allow New Jersey to win its first game at home this season that went past regulation time.
The story of what happened on the ice tonight was always going to take a back seat to the the off-ice shake-up that went down, as Greene, the 14-year veteran defenseman who had played all 932 of his career NHL games as a Devil and was the team’s captain, was sent to the New York Islanders for a prospect and a second-round draft pick.
During the third period, the Devils announced that Coleman, who has 21 goals this season, was sent to Tampa Bay for prospect Nolan Foote and a first-round pick in this year’s draft that initially was owned by Vancouver.
“It’s tough to see [Andy] go,” said an emotional Travis Zajac, the longest-tenured Devils player now with Greene’s departure. “You saw the first period when we were a little sporadic and not there and he’s a guy that’s, when he’s on the ice, everything calms down. We have a lot of confidence when we were on the ice with him.”
Columbus’ hot start began with Andrew Peeke’s first-career NHL goal at 2:28 before defenseman a Zach Werenski slapshot from the left circle beat Blackwood at the near post to put the Blue Jackets up two in the game’s first 6:19.
Blackwood settled in after the shaky start, eventually stopping 42 of 43 shots after the first period — including all 20 Blue Jackets shots in the second.
“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,” said Blackwood, who earned his 19th win of the season.
New Jersey evened the score with two goals in the first 3:51 of the second, with tallies from Joey Anderson and Nick Merkley’s first-career goal. (Merkley came over to the Devils as part of the Taylor Hall trade back in December.)
Kyle Palmieri added his 22nd of the season at 11:55 of the period to complete the turnaround.
Kevin Stenlund tied the game at 8:45 of the third with his fifth goal of the season, the only shot out of 21 in the third period that got past Blackwood. In the shootout, Blackwood maintained his stellar form, stopping six of seven shots.
After Pierre-Luc Dubois scored in the second round of the shootout, Nikita Gusev kept the game alive for New Jersey on the Devils’ final chance to keep the shootout alive. It took until the seventh round, when Jesper Bratt scored and Sonny Milano’s backhander went just wide that the Devils could finally celebrate an overtime victory at home after losing all 10 games that had gone past regulation at the Prudential Center coming into the game.
Columbus’ defeat extended its winless streak to five (0-2-3) as it snapped a nine-game winning streak against the Devils.
“We had over 30 scoring chances,” said Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella. “Blackwood was the story of the game. WE had more Grade A’s tonight than we had in three or four weeks in our offensive attack.”
*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Sunday evening’s game, with all photos taken by ALOST staff photographer Roberto Carlo. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are 11 pictures in total.