Tonight the Carolina Hurricanes return to the RBC Center after a successful 3-game roadtrip, picking up 5 points on the week, though losing a heartbreaker in a shootout to the Ottawa Senators Thursday night. The Canes' opponent, the New Jersey Devils, begin a final 3-game roadtrip of their own. The Devils lost in a shootout to the Chicago Blackhawks last night, after clinging to a one-goal lead until the final 30 seconds of regulation, and then immediately heading down to Raleigh in the wee hours last night.
The Hurricanes are the the Leagues' "Little Engine that Could", refusing to give up no matter the odds, and helped out by the recent collapse of the other teams in the East also vying for a place in the Conference's top eight. However, the odds continue to get longer, and with the Rangers crushing the Lightning last night, it's true now, more than ever, that every game is a "must win" for Carolina.
Tonight's question for the Canes: Will they keep playing like contenders working hard every shift to gain that playoff berth that seems out of reach, though they have not been technically eliminated?
The Devils arrive in Raleigh with their coach [Jacques Lemaire: Last two playoffs shouldn't be on Devils' minds | NJ.com], captain [Devils' Jamie Langenbrunner: We're not a great 'team' yet | NJ.com], and blogging fans [...Not Enough from Other Devils as Boston Bruins Win in OT, 1-0 - In Lou We Trust] challenging the team, who clinched a playoff berth on March 27th, to play harder to prove that they are better than their recent record indicates. Having dropped four of their last eight games in either overtime or the shootout, the Devils have only 2 wins over that eight-game span.
The question for the Devils: Will returning to Carolina, who shocked them in Newark last April thus ending their playoff run in the first round in 2009, provide the Devils' players that missing spark?
More specifics on the teams and the players, after the jump.
The teams come into the series having each won just their home games, putting the Devils up 2-1 on the season. The last outing in Raleigh in February was memorable as Brodeur was chased from goal (days before he headed to Vancouver as part of the Olympic roster for Team Canada), and the Hurricanes won 5-2 with goals from Zach Boychuk (his first in the NHL) and the fan-favorite top line of Eric Staal - Ray Whitney - Jussi Jokinen combining for the other 4 goals and 8 points.
For the Canes
These streaks and milestones are in play
- Since Carolina was shutout by Atlanta Thrashers last weekend, Brandon Sutter has put up goals and Eric Staal, Jussi Jokinen, and Chad LaRose all had points in three straight games.
- Returning last Monday after missing 19 games with a back injury, Cam Ward has been outstanding in goal, and has won both of his 2 starts, allowing just 2 goals on 62 shots faced for a .968 save %.
- Jussi Jokinen needs one goal to make 30 total on the season. He leads the Hurricanes with 62 points, a career best for the Favorite Finn.
- Rod Brind`Amour is one assist shy of 300
for his career.in his 10 seasons with the Hurricanes.
- Drayson Bowman, a top-tier scorer in WHL junior play with Spokane, has yet to register a point in the big leagues in his first 6 outings. Perhaps, like his linemate Zach Boychuk back in Feburary, he's been waiting to face Martin Brodeur to make his mark.
- The Hurricanes have excelled in front of the home crowd of late, having won 10 of the last 14 home games.
According to Chip Alexander of the N&O, tweeting from the morning skate, Coach Paul Maurice will stay with the lines we saw in Ottawa Thursday:
Ray Whitney - Eric Staal - Erik Cole
Jussi Jokinen - Brandon Sutter - Chad LaRose
Drayson Bowman - Patrick Dwyer - Zach Boychuk
Sergei Samsonov - Rod Brind`Amour - Tom Kostopoulos
On the backend, if the last several games serve as a model (and despite what the "Official" depth chart says), we can expect Joni Pitkanen and Jamie McBain to both play over 25 minutes. Then Brett Carson, Brian Pothier, Bryan Rodney and Jay Harrison will fill in only when Pitkanen and McBain skate to the bench gasping for breath and of their own accord.
Goalie Cam Ward will get the start. After the morning skate, Maurice told the media that Ward's play has been a surprise in that he has performed so well so quickly. The coach also confirmed with Bob that there has been no issue with his back, otherwise they would have shut him down immediately.
Tuomo Ruutu (shoulder) , Tim Gleason (foot) , and newcomer Alexandre Picard (UBI- hand?) will be scratched with injuries. Chip Alexander tweeted this morning that Gleason will be out the remainder of the season.
For the Devils
- Ilya Kovalchuk put up his 40th goal of the season last night, a number he's now reached in his last 6 seasons. Beyond that, Kovalchuk has led the Devils with four goals and five assists in the last six games for the Devils.
- Patrik Elias, centering the line with Kovalchuk, has two goals and five assists in the last six games.
- Despite the last 2 games that were lost in extra innings, Martin Brodeur has been outstanding for the Devils, giving up only 2 goals in the 60 shots he's faced, good for a .967 save %.
The Devils are now 3rd in the Eastern Conference, with 95 points and 5 games remaining, but needing the head-to-head tiebreaker to be seeded above their Atlantic division rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins who also have 95 points. Prior to tonight's action, they both stand one point behind the Buffalo Sabres.
According to our SBN colleagues at In Lou We Trust, Lemaire will start the following lines (noting that Zubrus was out last night with illness, and his status is not confirmed; )
Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Jamie Langenbrunner
Ilya Kovalchuk - Patrik Elias - Dainius Zubrus/Vladimir Zharkov
Brian Rolston - Rob Niedermayer - David Clarkson
Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond - Dean McAmmond - Rod Pelley
Paul Martin - Martin Skoula
Colin White - Mike Mottau
Andy Greene - Bryce Salvador/Mark Fraser or Anssi Salmela
Other worthy previews:
Game 78 Preview: New Jersey Devils at Carolina Hurricanes - In Lou We Trust
Devils at Hurricanes - 04/03/2010 - NHL.com - Game Previews
Fire & Ice blog, Bergen Record
Ward Passes Early Test - Carolina Hurricanes - Paul Branecky
Puck drops at 7pm. This game marks the beginning of Fan Appreciation Week in Raleigh, with numerous activities and give-aways planned. For those of you not attending tonight (and those who do but can check in with the blog via their mobile device), we'll have the Open Gamethread up at 6:30pm.