NEWARK, N.J. — Mackenzie Blackwood smiled through the fatigue after leading the New Jersey Devils to a hard-fought win.
Blackwood made 38 saves as the Devils beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 on Friday night. He was unquestionably the star of the game.
"I’m pretty tired, but it doesn’t matter," Blackwood said. "I’m just happy that we got the win tonight."
Travis Zajac and Blake Coleman scored for the Devils to provide the slim margin of victory.
Blackwood was under duress all night, especially in the second and third periods. He stopped all 15 Pittsburgh shots in the middle period and allowed only one goal in the third as the Penguins outshot the Devils 11-2.
"They have a heavy forecheck and they’re really good in the offensive zone in turning pucks over and creating the chances off the forecheck," Blackwood said. "They were doing a good job of doing that all night."
Jack Johnson got Penguins’ goal and Matt Murray made 19 saves.
It was Pittsburgh’s first game without star centre Sidney Crosby, who is expected to miss at least six weeks following surgery for a core muscle injury.
The Penguins will have to tough it out without their leading scorer.
"You can’t always control when the puck goes in the net," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "I thought our guys played hard. I thought we played smart. We just didn’t find the back of the net enough."
Blackwood played a hand in that.
"He’s a good goaltender," Penguins forward Jake Guentzel said. "He played really well tonight. He’s big, so gets a lot in the way of pucks."
Zajac scored the only goal of the opening period at 6:59, converting a setup in the slot from Jesper Bratt.
The goal ended a 10-game point drought for Zajac, the longest in the veteran centre’s career.
Blackwood kept the Penguins off the board with a several close-in stops, denying Nick Bjugstad and Guentzel.
Blackwood continued to shine in the second period. He nimbly shifted his 6-foot-4 frame to stop Brandon Tanev and Brian Dumoulin.
Blackwood got added support when Coleman scored with 4.1 second remaining in the period to give the Devils a 2-0 lead. Coleman shot from the left wing, and Murray made the save. But the puck wound up sitting in the crease. Coleman was first on the scene to knock in his own rebound for an unassisted goal.
"I kind of surprised myself," Coleman said. "It’s been an emphasis to get to the net a little more and get more chances. I know I’m capable of getting more offence and sometimes you get an ugly one to get you back"
In the third, Pittsburgh came close early when Guentzel hit the post.
The Penguins finally broke through with a goal from an unlikely source. Johnson jumped into the play and scored from the left dot. It was defenceman’s first goal in 92 games, cutting the Devils lead to 2-1.
The Devils, outscored 24-9 in third periods coming into this game, held on thanks to Blackwood.
"It was kind of a little bit of mayhem there in the end, but we were able to hold that one down, and get the two points," Blackwood said.
NOTES: Crosby isn’t the only significant injured player for Pittsburgh. Both D Kris Letang and RW Patric Hornqvist are sidelined with lower-body injuries. … Penguins C Nick Bjugstad suffered a lower-body injury late in the second period. Sullivan said he will be evaluated Saturday morning. … The Devils placed D Sami Vatanen on injured reserve (upper body) retroactive to Nov. 8 and recalled D Colton White from Binghamton (AHL). … Penguins C Alex Galchenyuk played his 500th game. … The Devils honoured service members on Military Appreciation Night.
Penguins: Host Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.
Devils: At Montreal Canadiens on Saturday.