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Blackwood, Zacha propel Devils to Second Straight Victory

The New Jersey Devils may have finally found their answer in net.

Rookie goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood shined in a 37-save, 2-0 shutout win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday afternoon.

Blackwood got the nod in net over Keith Kinkaid for the second straight game. In his four appearances prior to Saturday’s game, Blackwood held a record of 1-1, with a goals against average of 2.16 and a save percentage of .939.

Blackwood showed poise throughout the first period, stopping all 13 shots he faced. The Thunder Bay, Ontario native tracked the puck extremely well and displayed confidence in playing the puck outside of the crease. He made many key saves in the first period, including a beautiful breakaway stop on Hurricanes defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk.

“Mackenzie has come in here and played really well,” head coach John Hynes said. “It’s good to see him be able to play the way he’s playing and be consistent.”

Though Blackwood looked sharp in the opening frame, Hurricanes goaltender Curtis McElhinney had a rather undemanding first period. Of New Jerseys nine shots through the first 20 minutes of play, zero came in high-danger areas of play at 5v5.

The second period provided much of what the first period had. Both teams traded chances but not many were in high-danger areas. With just over two minutes remaining in the second period, Devils winger John Quenneville sent the Hurricanes to their fourth power play of the afternoon. It was New Jersey, however, that would take advantage and score the games first goal.

With two seconds remaining in the penalty kill, Devils center Pavel Zacha raced through the neutral zone with the puck on his stick and created a partial-breakaway from the Hurricanes blueline. His first shot attempt was saved by McElhinney but he stuck with the play and lifted the rebound into the back of the net. It was Zacha’s sixth goal of the season and his second shorthanded.

The penalty kill has been extremely strong ever since Zacha has found his game. He seems to be carrying the puck with more confidence and that helps kill penalties.

“I think we are a pretty aggressive penalty kill and we read plays really well,” Zacha said. “It’s huge for our team and it gets the whole team going on the bench.”

New Jersey led by one following two periods of play. The effort he showed on the goal not only caught the attention of his teammates, but his coach as well.

“That was a big one because it gives you a bit more energy and livens the building up a little bit when you score a goal like that,” Hynes said. “He’s played some good hockey as of late and he’s earning himself more and more ice time.”

The second period ended with the Devils ahead by one and that was all they needed. The third period and afternoon belonged to Blackwood. When it was all said and done, Blackwood recorded the first shutout of his young National Hockey League career.

“I trust in myself and I trust in the team,” Blackwood said. “I know that if I play the way I’m capable of, prepare the same way, I know I’m capable of playing at this level.”

The confidence that Blackwood is playing with is radiating through his teammates, as well. His play as of late allows the guys in front of him to know that he will be there to make the big save when necessary.

“He’s played well enough to be in some tight games, and we’re in a lot of one-goal games,” Hynes said. “It’s situations where it gives the players in front of him confidence, and that is something he has provided since he’s been in net.”

With under two minutes remaining in the third period, Hurricanes forward Teuvo Teravainen snapped a shot past Blackwood to seemingly tie the game. It was quickly waved off by officials for goaltender interference. The score remained 1-0 following a quick video review. Just over one minute later, Devils captain Andy Greene put one into an empty net to seal the victory for his team.

Blackwood’s recent play has helped his team get back on the winning track. New Jersey has now won three out of their last four, gaining momentum with every big game. Captain Andy Greene knows that this is just the beginning due to where they sit in the Eastern Conference.

“It’s important for where we are in the standings and we have to start to climb,” Greene said. “Start to get back into the mix and start playing well.”

New Jersey will play host to the Vancouver Canucks on New Years Eve. Following Monday’s matinee, the Devils will embark on a four-game road trip that will see them visit the Dallas Stars, Arizona Coyotes, Vegas Golden Knights and Buffalo Sabres.

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