The Florida Panthers are looking for points in their race for third place in the Atlantic Division, but they may be running into the New Jersey Devils at the wrong time.
Florida, which lost 4-1 in Philadelphia on Monday, will face the Devils and red-hot goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood on Tuesday in Newark, N.J.
To say that Blackwood, 23, has been nothing short of amazing in goal over the past week would be directly on point.
The Thunder Bay, Ontario, native has authored a pair of shutouts in his latest two outings — blanking the Metropolitan Division rival Flyers 5-0 in Philadelphia on Thursday and the visiting Los Angeles Kings 3-0 on Saturday. In all, the second-year Devils netminder produced 83 saves without allowing a goal.
While New Jersey’s season has been a disappointment — the organization fired coach John Hynes on Dec. 3 then replaced him with assistant Alain Nasreddine — Blackwood’s play in the blue paint has been a bright spot for the team to lean on as it looks toward its future.
Blackwood has recorded wins in three of his last four starts, beating the Ottawa Senators 4-3 in a shootout on Jan. 27 with a 35-save performance. The 6-foot-4 goalie sports a 17-12-7 record with a 2.84 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage, and his three shutouts tie him for third in the league.
While his work with the glove and stick grabbed the headlines after the win over the Kings, Blackwood credited the defense in front of him, especially the 18 shots blocked by his defensemen and forwards.
“I think it was another great team game,” Blackwood said Saturday after his fifth career shutout. “Everyone in this room plays for each other. It’s awesome to see everyone care. That makes me want to battle for them even more.”
The Panthers have struggled to find their footing since the large chunk of time off during the All-Star break.
They ended the unofficial first half of the season by recording six straight wins. However, they were shut out twice in the first three games when they returned to play after their 10-day vacation.
Against the Flyers, the Panthers got the game’s first goal from defenseman MacKenzie Weegar but neglected to cash in on numerous chances, quite a few of them short-handed, as Philadelphia potted four unanswered markers for the win.
“We let it slip (tonight),” Weegar said after the loss to the Flyers, who travel to South Florida to play the Panthers on Thursday. “We didn’t bury our chances, but it’ll be good to see them in a few days, and we’ll take back our two points.”
The Panthers have been outscored 22-10 since the break and are 1-4-1 — yet they remain just two points behind the third-place Maple Leafs in the division with one game in hand on Toronto.
Sergei Bobrovsky made 30 saves in the Monday loss. With the Panthers squandering another chance to tie Toronto, the Russian backstop could be back in goal against the Devils instead of backup Sam Montembeault, who is occupying the spot in place of injured Chris Driedger.
–Field Level Media