Blackwood the Backbone in Devils First Win

It happened. It finally happened. The New Jersey Devils won their first game of the season and it just happened to happen against their Hudson River Rivals, the New York Rangers. It took seven games filled with shutouts, blown leads, and skill competition losses, but they finally won. And even got a power-play goal too, which had been proving to be just as elusive as a win this season.

Rivalry Renewed

“Oh, man. We needed that (win) bad,” said an exhausted Mackenzie Blackwood after his 29-save performance in a 5-2 triumph at Prudential Center. “Everyone showed up to play tonight and we got bounces to go our way. Huge blocks. A great team effort from everyone who was in the lineup tonight. You could sense the desperation in our group, with the sacrifice and heart in everyone’s game.”

Blake Coleman #20, New Jersey Devils
Blake Coleman (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Blake Coleman, who scored his team-leading third goal season to tie the game nearly seven minutes after the Rangers took a 1-0 lead, agreed that the aura around the team was different tonight than the previous six games. “There was a feeling in the room tonight that felt…different. Just a confidence, everybody was up, everybody was positive. Guys were picking each other up after plays that maybe didn’t go right. It was good to see. We needed that in our room.”

“When you band together like that it makes your job easier and allows you to play together,” added Coleman. His teammate PK Subban got his first taste of the Devils-Rangers rivalry and he certainly brought his A-game. The defenseman finished the game with a career-high nine shots on goal, led all Devils players in ice-time (25:59), and chipped in an empty-net goal from waaaaaaay downtown to seal the victory with 48 seconds left in regulation.

P.K. Subban New Jersey Devils
P.K. Subban, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

“For me, whenever we have games like this it’s easy to get up for,” said Subban, who joked he knew it was a big game because Pierre McGuire interviewed him on the ice before the game for NBCSN. “It’s a long season and not every game is going to be a rivalry game. It’s fun and this Tri-State area for sports is pretty special; I’m just learning about it now. What a great way to learn by getting our first win against a rival team.”

A large part of their victory was thanks to the goaltending of Blackwood who kept the Devils in the game when the Rangers were controlling the pace in the early stages. When asked if any particular save stood out to him, Blackwood laughed and replied, “all of them! No save is more important than the other. We’ve been struggling and couldn’t find that win, and in a game like this, you don’t care if it hits you in the chest or if you have to dive out to make a crazy save, it doesn’t matter. A save is a save.”

Mackenzie Blackwood New Jersey Devils
Mackenzie Blackwood, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

It’s also no coincidence that the first win came in the first game this season that New Jersey didn’t allow more than two goals. Once they gave up the second goal to New York early in the third period, making it a 3-2 game the atmosphere in the arena became tense, as the Devils fans feared another blown third-period lead was about to happen.

Le Big Mac

It happened three days prior when they played the Florida Panthers, and it has happened against the Rangers more times than Devils’ fans would like to probably admit. But not on this night. Blackwood admitted he has a short memory, which is an especially good asset to have as an NHL goaltender. “I just keep trying to play my game,” said the 22-year-old goaltender. Whether its a goal or a save, it’s over and on to the next one for him. 

“In my opinion, he was our best player tonight,” Subban replied when asked about Blackwood’s performance on the night. “When your goalie is your best player, you usually win a lot of games.”

Youth Gone Wild

Jack Hughes New Jersey Devils
Jack Hughes, New Jersey Devils (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Hard to believe but Jack Hughes getting his first NHL point wasn’t the biggest story in the game, but it was definitely as significant one as he no longer has to answer questions about not having one. “Once you get one you can relax and play your game,” said Coleman. Hughes got an assist on the game-winning goal, which went off of Miles Wood’s backside but it wasn’t announced that way originally. Coleman admitted they knew before the scoring change was announced.

“I saw him celly pretty hard,” Coleman said with an impish grin that revealed his missing teeth. “I thought he had something to do with it (the goal). I’m happy for him and it will be big for our team (going forward).”

He also agree that Blackwood was a crucial part of the win. Saying he looked calm and confident. “He made himself big and made some key saves at key times. When you get good goaltending it makes everybody else look good (on the penalty kill),” added Coleman.

It’s all a step in the right direction for the Devils after what had been a tumultuous start to what was expected to be a season of promise. That could still come to fruition if they and Blackwood can play more games as they did on Oct. 17 against the Rangers.