Game 79 Preview: Your New Jersey Devils at Carolina Hurricanes
New Jersey Devils (44-28-6, 94 points) at Carolina Hurricanes (31-31-16, 78 points)
7:00 PM E.T.
TV: MSG Plus
Radio: WFAN 660 A.M.
Last year at this time, as all of us die hard fans know, the Devils took the ice in their last handful of games playing mostly for their own sense of pride. After their miraculous second half eventually became too much to overcome following a dreadful first half, the Devils packed the bags early for the first time since the 1995-1996 season. Oh how things have changed in a year. One year later, the Devils are on the verge of clinching a playoff birth, and sending perhaps the most explosive team to the playoffs since their magical 2003 Stanley Cup run. All that stands in their way: the Carolina Hurricanes and an always rowdy RBC center crowd.
The Devils come into Raleigh with confidence after they tied their season high with six goals scored in a 6-4 victory. All six goals were scored by different players, which proves the excellent depth the Devils have. Zubrus, Josefson, Kovalchuk, Zidlicky, Ponikarovsky, and Clarkson all chipped in a goal. However, the Devils did face adversity on the way to securing this victory. They trailed and overcame deficits of 1-0, 2-1, and 3-2 (and also a Ryan Malone hat-trick), before erupting for 4 consecutive goals. Even after all this scoring, captain Zach Parise claimed “I thought we made some good plays, some good cycles. We could have had a few more (goals), should have had a few more, but it will come. I think as he gets more and more comfortable if they keep it like this it will be pretty good line.” In only a few games since Zajac has been back, it appears that Parise and Zajac have found the chemistry that has made them such a dynamic duo in past years. With Ilya Kovalchuk also skating on that line, teams will have a hard time shutting them all down. Although Zajac failed to get on the scoresheet against Tampa Bay, he did create many scoring opportunities and excelled in the face-off circle, an area that the Devils have been close to the bottom of the league in all year. Marty Brodeur picked up his 28th win after stopping 16 of 20 shots.
This will be the 4th and final matchup between the Eastern Conference rivals this year. The Devils maintain a 2-1 lead in the season series, but will be looking to change the results from their last meeting, in which the Hurricanes won 4-2 (and goalie Cam Ward was credited with a goal). So what exactly are the Hurricanes playing for? Well, after blowing a 2 goal to the Winnipeg Jets, it is mathematically impossible for the ‘Canes to make the playoffs. 16 seconds into overtime, Andrew Ladd scored, ensuring another spring without playoff hockey in Carolina. The Hurricanes now take on the role as playoff spoiler as the NHL season begins to get down to the wire, entering the final week of the regular season. To beat the Devils, searching for their 3rd straight win and 9th out of 12 against the Canes, some key players for Carolina will have to overcome recent negative trends. Captain Eric Staal, has not scored a goal against the Devils in the last 11 meetings. Additionally, Cam Ward is only 2-7-1 in his last 10 match ups with the Devils, which might result in head coach and ex Devils captain, “Captain Kurk” Muller start backup goalie Brian Boucher who has played the Devils tough throughout his career. Regardless of who is in net, either goaltender will have to deal with Ilya Kovalchuk, who has registered 41 points in 29 games overall at the always exciting RBC center. Look for Peter DeBoer to send out a similar lineup to the game vs. the Lightning to see if the Devils offense can click again like it did on Thursday. Martin Brodeur is expected to make the start for the Devils. Win and were in!
The Devils clinch a playoff berth with: 1 point (overtime/shootout loss) against Carolina OR if the Capitals lose to Montreal OR if the Sabres lose to Toronto.
Projected Lines – New Jersey Devils
Parise – Zajac – Kovalchuk
Sykora – Elias – Zubrus
Ponikarovsky – Henrique – Clarkson
Carter – Josefson – Bernier
Greene – Fayne
Salvador – Zidlicky
Volchenkov – Larsson
Tlusty – Staal – LaRose
Skinner – Jokinen – Ruutu
Bowman – Sutter – Dwyer
Joslin – Brent – Stewart
Allen – Gleason
Harrison – Faulk
Pitkanen – McBain