Devils Deal Greene and Coleman, Blue Jackets 4-3 Upset in Shootout

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NEWARK, NJ — It started even before the drop of the puck.

Two hours before New Jersey hit the ice against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Devils dealt 14-year NHL veteran and team captain, Andy Greene, to the New York Islanders for David Quenneville and a second-round pick.

An hour later, Blake Coleman, who was supposed to present Player of the Month honors to six High School student-athletes, abruptly left the building without word as rumours began to circle the hallways at Prudential Center.

Devils’ goaltender MacKenzie Blackwood shrugged it off, however, even as word broke in the first period that Coleman — tied for the team lead in goals with 21 — was dealt to the Tampa Bay Lighting, turning aside a career-high 52 shots en route to a 4-3 shootout victory over the Blue Jackets Sunday night.

New Jersey Devils right wing Kyle Palmieri (21) battles in front of Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Elvis Merzlikins (90) during the second period on Feb. 16, 2020 at Prudential Center in Newark, NJ. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

“Hockey is a business,” said Blackwood, who denied six-of-seven would-be shooters while Nikita Gusev and Jesper Bratt beat the Jackets’ Elvis Merzlikins to pull out the win in shootout fashion.

“Kind of an emotional day for all of us — I found out when I got to the rink,” Blackwood said. “We lost two big parts of our team, especially Andy — he’s been a leader here in the room, ever since I’ve been here I’ve looked up to him. He’s a piece in this room I’m definitely going to miss.”

On the outside of the playoff picture looking in, New Jersey (22-26-10) fell behind quickly, 2-0, just 6:19 into the game on goals from Andrew Peeke and Zach Werenski in the first, but battled back to take a 3-2 lead on second-period goals from Joey Anderson, Nick Merkley and Kyle Palmieri.

Columbus (30-18-12) fired 21 shots on Blackwood in the third, finally beating the Thunder Bay, Ont., native when Kevin Stenlund tied it at 3-3 with 11:15 remaining in regulation to send the game to overtime.

Gustav Nyquist #14 of the Columbus Blue Jackets takes the puck as Jack Hughes #86 of the New Jersey Devils defends at Prudential Center on Feb. 16, 2020 in Newark, NJ. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Despite both team’s best efforts in sudden-death, the tilt was sent to a shootout where Blackwood stood tallest when his team needed him most. After surrendering goals on each of Columbus’ first two shots of the game, Blackwood settled in nicely after the rocky start.

“Just trying to keep doing what I do, take it one shot at a time and today was a pretty good example,” Blackwood, who just posted back-to-back shutouts, said.

Coleman was sent to the Lightning in exchange for highly-touted left wing Nolan Foote and the Vancouver Canucks’s first-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, previously acquired by Tampa Bay. Foote, a first round pick of the Lightning in 2019, is the son of 19-year NHL veteran, Adam Foote.

Travis Zajac, the longest-tenured Devils player remaining, addressed the team after the trade but before the game, before coach Alain Nasreddine and staff officially broke word.

“Losing two friends and teammates but we have a job to do,” Zajac told them. “We can talk about it after but we have to control what we can control and that’s going out and trying to win a hockey game.”

Control of the game the Devils took. After falling behind by two after one period of play, a streaking Kevin Rooney dished off to Anderson who beat Merzlikins stick-side to cut it to 2-1.

Just 2:31 later, Merkley buried the rebound off Rooney’s initial shot for his first-career National Hockey League goal to tie the game at 2-2.

“I was just trying to celebrate. It was nice to have my teammates there, they did all the work I just got rewarded,” Merkley said. “A good forecheck, Joey passed it out to Roons who got it on net. Just got lucky, but it’s nice to put it in.”

MacKenzie Blackwood #29 of the New Jersey Devils stops a shot by Emil Bemstrom #52 of the Columbus Blue Jackets in the third period at Prudential Center on Feb. 16, 2020 in Newark, NJ. The New Jersey Devils defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-3 in a shootout. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

The Devils continued battling and Palmieri gave New Jersey their first lead of the game with 8:05 to go in the second. A drop pass from Nico Hischier found Palmieri’s wheelhouse in the slot and the Smithtown, N.Y., native made no mistake ripping it off the nearside post and in.

A breakdown defensively — all but expected after the loss of five-year captain Greene and one of the game’s premier penalty killers in Coleman — was an opportune moment for Columbus as Oliver Bjorkstrand fed Stenlund all alone in front in the third.

The game-tying goal ensured 60 minutes would not be enough to decide this one.

New Jersey Devils center Kevin Rooney (16) battles with Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Markus Nutivaara (65) during the second period on Feb. 16, 2020 at Prudential Center in Newark, NJ. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

“When you’re in this situation you don’t realize until it happens and it’s tough,” Zajac said. “I spent 14 years with (Greene) but I’m used to distractions right now at this point. It’s the time of year but it doesn’t make it easier. He’s been a great leader for us.”

Despite the off-ice distractions, New Jersey dug deep and defeated a very good Columbus team on home ice, a place the Devils have had trouble winning this season (10-10-10).

After the game, Devils’ interim-General Manager Tom Fitzgerald did not mince words.

“We have holes, my job — if it’s my job — is to fix this,” Fitzgerald said. “This season did not go the way it was supposed to go. We underperformed October, November, December. The coach got fired. Management got fired.

“If I’m here, it’s my job to fix. We don’t need to start over. We’ve pivoted to try to get ahead in asset management and applied that moving forward trying to build this team and continue to be competitive.”

Columbus Blue Jackets center Boone Jenner (38) battles New Jersey Devils defenseman P.K. Subban (76) on Feb. 16, 2020 at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Peeke’s goal 2:28 into the action was also his first NHL goal for the Blue Jackets, currently mired in a five-game losing streak. Columbus, which has not won since a 2-0 shutout over Detroit on Feb. 7, is one point ahead of the Philadelphia Flyers for seventh place in the Eastern Conference.

”We had over 30 scoring chances,” Columbus coach John Tortorella said. ”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.’

New Jersey Devils interim-General Manager Tom Fitzgerald addresses the media. (Photo by J.C. Hageny/HockeyClan)

”I need to be careful,” Tortorella said. ”You can’t get frustrated. I thought for a big part of that game we developed our offense and had good checking. We just have to stay with it.”

The Blue Jackets are in Philadelphia for a game with huge playoff implications on Tuesday.

“The season is still long,” Merzlikins said. “We have 20-something games, so we still have time. We’re just going to believe what we have. We are not losing it. I believe and I know my teammates are going to fight and we are going to do beautiful things.”

New Jersey conversely, has engineered points in eight of their last 10, though Fitzgerald hinted more moves could be on the way.

“To be competitive, to scratch and claw and that next step to get in the playoffs — that’s what I’m targeting,” Fitzgerald said. “As these young kids grow with men, they need to be surrounded to help them grow. I haven’t lost sight of that at all.”

New Jersey Devils’ Nick Merkley with the puck from his first-career NHL goal on Feb. 16, 2020 at Prudential Center in Newark. (Photo by Mark Carosiello/HockeyClan)

Damon Severson, Green’s longtime partner on the blue line, tried to put it all into perspective.

“When you pull off trades like that it’s a little bit of a shock,” Severson said. “Until it happens — there’s always talk — but when it physically happens and you get the news it doesn’t set in. Obviously, with (Taylor) Hall being traded earlier in the year and Coleman today, they’re both going to get chance to win the Stanley Cup and compete in the playoffs.

“It was a really ugly win but if you look at it we still worked hard,”Severson said. “We didn’t play the type of defensive game we would have wanted but tonight was one of those payback games — they owed us one. Definitely a big shock, but for the guys who remain here and the guys that are going to come in we’re going to have to step up.”

Blackwood’s 52-save showing was the third-best in Devils/Colorado Rockies/Kansas City Scouts franchise history behind Bill Oleschuk (54, Jan. 17, 1979) and William McKenzie (53, Jan. 1, 1978).


0-1 CBJ Andrew Peeke (Sonny Milano, Pierre-Luc Dubois) 17:32-1st

0-2 CBJ Zach Werenski (Eric Robinson, Markus Nutivaara) 13:41-1st

1-2 NJD Joey Anderson (Kevin Rooney, Kyle Palmieri) 18:40-2nd

2-2 NJD Nick Merkley (Kevin Rooney, Joey Anderson) 16:09-2nd

3-2 NJD Kyle Palmieri (Nico Hischier, Jepser Bratt) 8:05-2nd

3-3 CBJ Kevin Stenlund (Oliver Bjorkstrand, Gustav Nyquist) 11:15-3rd

4-3 NJD Jesper Bratt 7th-round shootout GWG

Shots: 55-26 CBJ; Merzlikins, CBJ, 23 saves; Blackwood, NJD, 52 saves


Written by John Christian Hageny  @JCCSPORTS 

Special to HockeyClan


Main Image: New Jersey Devils right wing Nicholas Merkley (39) celebrates after he scores his first National Hockey League goal during the second period of the National Hockey League game between the New Jersey Devils and the Columbus Blue Jackets on February 16, 2020 at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)


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