Whenever the New Jersey Devils hook up with the Carolina Hurricanes, you can't help but think about playoff hockey. Since 2001, every single time the Hurricanes have qualified for the playoffs the road has led through the swamps of New Jersey.
We have talked about rivalries a bit on this blog, but we have not touched upon the extreme dislike many fans have for the Devils. The playoffs help to create rivalries, whether it makes much sense geographically or not and after three playoff series against each other in this decade, these franchises know each other pretty well.
There are many lasting memories surrounding these two teams, regardless how many names and faces have changed over the years.
Who could forget when Scott Stevens knocked both Shane Willis and Ron Francis out of the 2001 playoffs with viscious, high hits? Or the rousing and spine-tingling standing ovation the team got when eliminated on home ice that series?
How about "The Save" Kevin Weekes made on John Madden in 2002? Or the multiple games won in overtime?
There was plenty of drama in 2006 as well. The Devils had won 15 games in a row, including a sweep in round one of the playoffs that year. After the Canes easily prevailed in game one, Eric Staal tied game two up with just three seconds left and Niclas Wallin ended up winning that game in overtime.
Do these two teams have any more precious playoff memories in store for fans? Both are in the thick of the playoff race as the Devils have 49 points and find themselves 6th in the conference. Even though they are third in their division, they are just a couple of points behind the division leading New York Rangers.
The Canes are right behind the Devils sitting in 7th place in the conference with 45 points. While they are second in their division, they still are not quite within shouting distance of the Capitals, who don't quite seem to know how to lose. The Caps have 55 points.
Carolina has won 7 of their last 10 and three games in a row. The Devils have also won 7 of their last 10 and have played very well, even without "old reliable", Martin Brodeur in goal.
Much is being made in the media over the fact that Brandon Sutter will be facing his dad, Brett Sutter for the very first time. It certainly must be odd for them, but it does not diminish the fact that both teams need the two points.
The last time a father faced a son in an NHL contest was just last year when Brady Murray of the Kings went against Andy Murray, coach of the Blues on 10/6/07.
The predicament certainly gives teammates plenty of material for teasing and joking. A New Jersey blog, Fire and Ice has a few interesting quotes made by a couple of players-
"I kill him", said Bobby Holik. Then after a pause he said, "oh, you said Brandon Sutter? Then I give him the puck and skate away", he laughed.
"Maybe there will be less pressure because coach won't be so upset if Brandon scores, " joked goalie Scott Clemmensen.
The teasing goes both ways as Brandon was told by his teammates that he better skate hard because his dad was watching. They both had a chuckle as son watched father take a tumble during the Devils morning skate today.
But all joking aside, once the puck drops it will be business as usual for both teams.
Cam Ward will be in net again for the Canes. The goalie is 7-2-1 in his last 10 games with a GAA of 2.07 and a SV% of .919. As we mentioned yesterday, he was just named the NHL's third star of the week.
Expect the lines to be the same as last game for Carolina. Walker will be with Cullen and LaRose while Williams should be with Brind'Amour and Whitney.
Patrick Eaves should return after missing the last game.
Game starts at 7 and will not be broadcast locally.
Adam provided a scouting report of the Devils:
The Devils will, for the most part, play the same system as always, but future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur is not in net due to injury. When Brodeur went down, so did the Devils hopes — or so everyone thought. It gave ex-Cane Kevin Weekes an opportunity to shine, and the Devils have played surprisingly well and are in contention for the Atlantic Division lead. But it's been because of the stellar play of journeyman goaltender Scott Clemmensen, not Weekes. Clemmensen has been nothing short of spectacular in goal. The Devils are still a defense-first team (fifth in goals against per game) who take away the middle of the ice. But they are also ninth in goals per game, which may surpise many. They roll four solid lines, are positionally sound and do not make many mistakes. For the Canes to win, the team will need to be patient and a utilize a solid transition game. It will be tough to skate in the neutral zone, so accurate, quick passing may be the key. The Devils' defense is solid, but does not have a standout. They have some decent puck movers but will turn the puck over if pressured. The Canes should create a forecheck but not be too aggressive, as the Devils will make you pay for any mistakes. One final thing: the Devils have two of the smarter players in the game in Travis Zajac and Zach Parise. These two anticipate the play so well and know what to do in every situation. While they are not superstars, they are amazingly gifted and do all the little things while putting up points.
What to watch: Keep your eyes on the Devils' power play. Since they don't have any truly offensive D-man (sorry Paul Martin), they will often play four — and sometimes even five — forwards with the man advantage. Look for physical David Clarkson to set up in front of the net. While he led the team in penalty minutes last year and is second in PIMs this season, he has very good hands and will score goals in the dirty areas.
Thanks Adam! It should be a good one tonight.