ALBANY — Mackenzie Blackwood made sure his first American Hockey League playoff start in goal was a memorable one.
The 20-year-old from Thunder Bay, Ontario, stopped all 27 shots he faced to help the Albany Devils shut out the Toronto Marlies 3-0 in the opening game of the best-of-5 AHL Calder Cup North Division semifinals Thursday night before a crowd of 2,217 at Times Union Center. Blackwood made several saves in traffic and came up huge during a 5-on-3 Toronto power play that put the Devils in control of the momentum.
Ben Thomson, John Quenneville and Brian Gibbons each scored goals, and the Devils fought off nearly three minutes of added pressure when the Marlies pulled goalie Garret Sparks for an extra skater late in the third.
Game 2 will be Saturday back here at 5 p.m. The series then switches to Toronto.
“That was Blackwood’s first pro playoff game,” Devils head coach Rick Kowalsky said. “Blackwood was pretty solid for us. I liked our start. The guys were engaged physically. The first period was just what we needed.”
Blackwood, who had a 17-14 record with a 2.55 goals against average and three shutouts in 36 regular-season games, admitted he was a little tight before his first big playoff game.
“It went well,” he said. “I was a little nervous at first, but it was good to get that first save and to feel your skates on the ice. It felt good to get our legs under us early.”
The Devils, who are playing their last season here before moving to Binghamton next season, took a 1-0 edge on Thomson’s goal from the left point with 3:38 left in the opening period. The 24-year-old left wing scored six goals during the regular season.
Although the Marlies took control of the play for most of the second period, putting pressure on Blackwood throughout, the momentum turned back toward the Devils again when they killed off a 5-on-3 power play with Blake Coleman and Gibbons in the penalty box. Just a few minutes later, Quenneville broke loose on a Devils’ power play for an unassisted goal to put the Devils up 2-0.
“That 5-on-3 power play we killed off was a big point in the game,” Kowalsky said. “We survived it. Our power play struggled to get in and get some chances. But Quenneville is a shooter. We talked to him about shortening up his release.”
“I stripped the puck away and got a 2-on-1 break,” Quenneville said. “I took the quick shot. Any time you get a power-play goal, it’s good. You want to make the most out of your opportunities.”
Gibbons tacked on an empty-net goal with 37 seconds left to clinch the win.
Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe said his team must improve a few things before Saturday’s game.
“Obviously, we didn’t play a good first period. They took it to us pretty good,” Keefe said. “Special teams weren’t good for us today, but we have some positives to build upon. I thought that 5-on-3 power play was a key for them. We’re on the power play, and all of a sudden it was like we were trying to kill a power play. We gifted one to them. We usually get one power play goal a game typically.
“In Game 2, we’re looking for better execution and to play more like we did tonight in the second period. We know we’re in for a tough game.”
Toronto 0 0 0 — 0
Albany 1 1 1 — 3
First Period — 1, Albany, Thomson 1 (Helgeson), 16:22. Penalties — Pelley, Alb (high-sticking), 1:53; Moore, Tor (tripping), 2:37; Gauthier, Tor (tripping), 13:30.
Second Period — 2, Albany, Quenneville 1 13:03 (pp). Penalties — Quenneville, Alb (tripping), 4:12; Dermott, Tor (tripping), 6:38; Coleman, Alb (elbowing), 9:02; Gibbons, Alb (tripping), 9:53; Nielsen, Tor (holding), 11:30; Campbell, Tor (roughing), 20:00; Blandisi, Alb (roughing), 20:00.
Third Period — 3, Albany, Gibbons 1 (Lappin), 19:23 (en). Penalties — Oleksy, Tor (slashing), 8:50.
Shots on Goal-Toronto 8-13-6 — 27. Albany 11-9-3 — 23.
Power-play opportunities — Toronto 0 of 4; Albany 1 of 5.
Goalies — Toronto, Sparks 0-1 (22 shots-20 saves). Albany, Blackwood 1-0 (27-27).
A — 2,217. T — 2:20.
Referees — Terry Koharski, Pierre Lambert. Linesmen — Ryan Daisy, Francois Dussureault.