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FEATURE: Return of the Mac

The Devils got goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood back in the fold on Monday after nearly a month's absence

by Chris Wescott TheChrisWescott / NewJerseyDevils.com

Video: PRACTICE RAW | Mackenzie Blackwood 2.15.21

It was a day you knew was coming, but it took a long time to get here.

The New Jersey Devils and their fans likely breathed a sigh of relief Monday. They not only got back to skating on Monday with a large group of players coming off the NHL's COVID Protocol list for the first time in weeks, but they also saw their number one goaltender between the pipes again.

"It's good to be back and practicing with the team and getting back into it," Blackwood said.

The netminder has not played in a game since Jan. 19. Take a quick look at the NHL stats page and you'll see why Monday was a big deal. Blackwood sits at fifth in the League in save percentage (.955). He was off to a hot start before he came down with COVID-19 prior to the Devils game against the Islanders on Jan. 21.

"We showed up to the Islanders and that evening I got a call before the game or the day before the game. I got a call saying that I tested positive, so I couldn't play."

Not only could he not play, but the illness would ultimately sideline the Devils top goalie for almost a month. In hindsight, the Devils having to postpone the continuation of their season due to multiple positive tests may have given Blackwood the full time he needed to recover.

Blackwood says the illness gave him a "really bad cough" and he had a hard time breathing. But now he's almost fully back to normal.

Video: 3-ON-3 | Welcome Back

"I'm very close," he said. "It was just if you asked me that five days ago, I would've said not that close, but the last week has been really good for me. Like the first week of me getting back on the ice and skating was tough, but over the last week I felt a lot better each day. So I'm pretty close, really close. And I'm thankful that I'm feeling better and getting closer, but, it was a little frustrating. I'm glad that everything's pointing in the right direction."

Blackwood says he wasn't really surprised that COVID-19 affected him the way that it did.

"I didn't have the greatest lungs my whole life," Blackwood said. "So I would say everything's good except for my lung. So I knew kind of that if I got it, it'd be a little bit of a battle. But honestly, other than that, like other than my wind, I didn't have much going on. I didn't have a fever or anything, but it was just my cough.

"It's crazy. I know a lot of people are affected differently and you never know how it's going to affect you or people around you. So that's I think the scariest part about it. I'm just thankful that all the guys here are starting to feel better and battling through and it seems like everyone's going to be all good."

The Devils return to the ice Tuesday night against the Rangers in Manhattan. It is yet to be seen if Ruff will go with Blackwood or if one of his other goalies will get the call. But regardless of who starts Tuesday, it was a positive development to see Blackwood back on Monday.

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