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GAME STORY: Devils 4, Flyers 1

The Devils extend their winning streak to three games and go 3-0-1 in their mini-series against Philadelphia

by Sam Kasan samikasan / NewJerseyDevils.com

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. - The Devils extended their winning streak to three games while riding goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood's 31-save performance to a 4-1 victory against Philadelphia Saturday night at Wells Fargo Center. 

"(Blackwood) played a great game for us," Devils head coach Lindy Ruff said. "We had a number of shifts where we got trapped inside our own zone. We were on the ropes. We made a few mistakes, but he covered those mistakes for us.

"Sometimes if you don't play that well in front of your goaltender, he can steal some (wins). And maybe on a tough night the team can steal some points for him. Tonight, was one of his best performances of the year."

The Devils, who have scored the game's opening goal in the past four games, also extend their point streak to four games: 3-0-1. New Jersey's three-game winning ties their longest such stretch of the season from Jan. 31-Feb. 18 (a 19-day stretch due to the COVID-19 shutdown). 

Video: POST-GAME REPORT | Three In A Row

"The last couple of games we've been taking charge early in the games," winger Jesper Bratt said. "Coming out knowing what we're doing, we want to play with a lot of speed and have good pace in our game.

"We really came together the last couple games as a group and creating a winning mentality."

The Devils received goals from Bratt, Janne Kuokkanen, Nico Hischier and Yegor Sharangovich. Jack Hughes picked up two assists in the game. 

Sharangovich had a two-point night with a goal and assist, and extended his goal-streak to three games (four total goals).

"It was an all-around team effort, we were battling out there and we finally got rewarded," Hischier said. "It feels good to win games. It's more fun obviously."

Philadelphia's Joel Farabee ended Blackwood's shutout bid with 1:18 remaining in regulation. 

Here are some other observations from the game…

* As a goaltender, you are taught that if a puck gets through your 5-hole then a desperation move you can try is to bring your skates together behind you in the hope of catching the puck before it gets cleanly through your body. If you're beat on a hard shot, then this move will unlikely work. But if a puck just gets through, then there is still hope. 

This situation and technique helped Blackwood survive some friendly fire. Halfway through the first period the Flyers' Scott Laughton threw a puck into the crease. Sharangovich tried to swat the puck away, but instead knocked it through the legs of Blackwood. 

Blackwood instinctively squeezed his skates together, and in doing so trapped the puck right at the goal line. Though the referee initially ruled it a goal, a video review overturned that ruling and the Devils maintained their 1-0 lead. 

"I think (Blackwood) played unbelievable," Hischier said. "He was really solid. Made a couple huge saves for us. That's we need from him. He did that tonight. That obviously helps us a lot. 

* The pivotal moment in the game occurred halfway through the third period with the Devils holding a 2-0 lead, but killing a penalty. It was Philadelphia's opportunity to pull within one goal. But that's when the Devils captain stepped in. Hischier stole the puck from Sean Couturier high in the defensive zone, chipped the puck around Jakub Voracek and coasted toward the Flyers net for a 2-on-1 with Sharangovich. Hischier kept and shot far side for a shorthanded tally to put a stake in the Flyers' heart.  

"It was a big moment in the game," Ruff said. "We were looking at it as a big kill, but part of that big kill was (Hischier) making the play he made and getting us the shorthanded goal. A great shot.

"That was a big play for us."

* Devils defenseman Will Butcher didn't pick up an assist on the play, but it was his intelligence and skill that led to New Jersey's second goal. Butcher had the puck below his own goal line as the Flyers went for a line change. Butcher sent a stretch pass from that goal line to the opposing blue line where he nearly sprung Jack Hughes and Sharangovich for a 2-on-0. The Flyers scrambled off of the bench and tried to pick up defensive zone coverage. But they were so disjointed that Hughes was able to carry the puck untouched before finding Kuokkanen, who was uncovered in the dot, for the one-timer goal. The coverage breakdown from Philadelphia was a result of Butcher's read and pass. 

It's been an adverse season for Butcher, who has found himself out of the lineup for much of the season. Recent injuries have given him a chance to play and he's making the most of it. The 26-year-old has six assists in his last seven games. 

* The Devils' first goal may have been scored by Jesper Bratt, but linemate Pavel Zacha did most of the work. Zacha skated the puck from behind his own goal line through the neutral zone and over the opposing blue line. Zacha's speed allowed him to go untouched on his path as the Flyers backed off. Once Zacha gained the blue line, three Flyers pursued him, leaving Bratt to sneak through on the far side. Zacha moved the puck to Bratt, who had plenty of space to snap off a shot from above the circle that went off of goalie Brian Elliott's mask and in. 

* Kevin Bahl played in his second-career NHL game, and recorded his first-career NHL point (assist) on the game's opening goal. Bahl was battling behind his own net with veteran forward Jakub Voracek. Bahl, who tapes in at 6-foot-6, 230 pounds, won the battle and chipped the puck to Zacha. 

Even though Zacha and Bratt did the rest, scoring off of an end-to-end rush, it was Bahl's simple defensive play that led to his first assist/point. And for a defensively-minded defenseman, it's the perfect way to get into the NHL's records. 

Bahl got things done in his own end as well. He was physical in front of the net, established his position, won his share of 50-50 pucks and even broke up a couple plays with his stick play. A great sign of things to come. 

"Structure-wise there may have been a couple times he wasn't in the right place," Ruff explained. "Emotionally involved in the game, physically involved in the game, he moved the puck well."

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