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Do the Hurricanes have a playoff rival?: A case for the New Jersey Devils

The Hurricanes have qualified for the post-season only six times in team history and there is one team that they have faced off against more than anyone else. With four series against, can the New Jersey Devils be considered the closest thing Carolina may have to a playoff rival?

Devils v Hurricanes X Brind’’Amour

Editor’s Note: We’re wrapping up our “Rivalry Week (two weeks, really) content by looking back on the Canes’ playoff rivals of the 2000s.

When we think of potential playoff rivals, no team really jumps off the page. The Capitals are a rising candidate, but with recency bias and only one series to go off of it really isn’t much. The Bruins are another option, but besides the 2009 series, neither the 1999 nor 2019 series were very competitive.

The only real potential option is with New Jersey. The Devils have been the Hurricanes’ most frequent playoff opponent since relocation having faced off against one another four times in Carolina’s six playoff appearances.

All-Time Playoff Top Scorers NJ:

  • Patrick Elias: 6-13-19
  • Bobby Holik: 8-6-14
  • Brian Rafalski: 4-8-12

All-Time Playoff Top Scorers CAR:

  • Eric Staal: 8-6-14
  • Rod Brind’Amour: 4-7-11
  • Ray Whitney: 6-5-11

The first meeting between the two franchises came in 2001 in the first round of the playoffs. It was the Hurricanes’ second time making the playoffs since relocation and New Jersey was the defending Cup champions. The Devils were backed by Martin Brodeur, in his ninth season and the Canes by Arturs Irbe.

The series saw the Canes in a deep hole fast, getting scored on five times in Game 1, shutout in Games 2 and 3, both Shane Willis and Ron Francis knocked out by Scott Stevens and seeing themselves then down 3-0.

However, the Canes didn’t go away, winning Game 4 in overtime and hanging on in Game 5 to force a Game 6 back in Raleigh.

Despite being finished off 5-1 in Game 6, the team showed heart and determination against the defending Stanley Cup Champions in fighting back from the 3-0 hole and was a large reason why many dubbed this moment as when hockey arrived in Raleigh.

Carolina wouldn’t have to wait long for a rematch as the 2002 playoffs saw a repeat first-round matchup with the Hurricanes this time the higher seed.

This series saw the BBC line beginning to get its gears going and the tremendous tandem work of Arturs Irbe and Kevin Weekes.

The first two games in Raleigh saw tight contests where, despite getting outshot, the home team Hurricanes managed to eke out two victories. The next two games in New Jersey, despite equal low shooting efforts, gave way to much broader margins of victories in the Devils’ favor, with only a single Carolina goal in the final three minutes of the third period of Game 4.

Game 5 turned into another closely contested contest with the Canes rallying to send the game to overtime and Josef Vasicek sealing the deal to pull Carolina ahead in the series 3-2.

With the swing back to New Jersey, the worry was that the Devils could gain momentum if they could mount another home win, after the two big ones before, but Kevin Weekes and the Hurricanes stoned them with a 1-0 shutout victory.

The Canes would instead use the momentum in their run to their first Stanley Cup Final appearance.

The teams would meet again in 2006 and this time, in the second round of the playoffs. The Hurricanes were coming off of a 4-2 win against the Montreal Canadiens and the Devils had just swept the New York Rangers.

The series featured the number two and three seeds in the Eastern Conference and seemed to be gearing up to be another tough series between the two clubs, with the rookie Cam Ward taking on the titan of Brodeur, but it proved to actually be the easiest in the Canes’ road to the Cup.

Game 1 of the series had Carolina blowing New Jersey out of the water by a score of 6-0, but the Devils showed more spirit after and kept the next two games one goal contests, including a wild finish in game two. However, New Jersey was now in a 3-0 hole, but they weren’t going to go out empty-handed. The team rallied their best effort in a 5-1 victory, but it was too little, too late as upon the return to Raleigh, Carolina would put the series away, knocking off New Jersey in Game 5.

The teams would meet for the fourth and latest time in 2009 in what was arguably the best series between the two clubs.

The series went back and forth, and game for game with the Devils being the first to strike with a 4-1 win in Game 1. The Canes answered back with a 2-1 overtime win. Then it was New Jersey who took Game 3 in another overtime contest.

While the series featured big hits from the likes of Tim Gleason and Tuomo Ruutu and even bigger saves from Ward and Brodeur, the most memorable parts were the goals in the next few games, with possibly none bigger than Jussi Jokinen’s 0.02 second left game winner.

Brodeur answered back with a 44-save shutout win for Game 5, but Cam Ward went tit-for-tat and posted a 28-save shutout feeding off the home crowd in Raleigh for Game 6.

All that was left was Game 7. The Canes struck first, Tuomo Ruutu only 1:02 into the game, but the Devils responded less than a minute and a half later. New Jersey collected two more with the Canes only managing one as Carolina headed into the third, now down 3-2.

Ward and Brodeur continued to battle it out, Ward trying to keep his team in it and Brodeur fighting to stay on top, but in the final two minutes of the series it all unraveled for one.

With 1:20 to go, Joni Pitkanen found Jussi Jokinen open on the back-door for the tying goal, and Brodeur’s mind must have been on overtime, because less than thirty seconds later, Staal cruised down the right circle, dangled to his left and ripped it home, giving Carolina the lead which they would hold onto to advance to the second round.

The New Jersey Devils may not be much of a rival to the Hurricanes, but they are the most common opponent the team faced in the playoffs. The two franchises gave four hard-fought, grinding and well captivating series, though, admittedly, they are a bit more fun in the eyes of Canes’ fans.

Each team had back-and-forth shutouts, blowouts and highlight reel goals or saves, but the series were most interesting because of how close they seemed to always be regardless of the final game counts.

Even though only one series went the full seven, two went to six and out of the 24 total playoff matches between the two teams, 12 of the games were one-goal contests.

The Canes and Devils may not necessarily be rivals, but in terms of Canes history, they are the most frequent but nevertheless memorable playoff opponent the team has had.

One last tangent...

Outside of just going back over the Hurricanes and Devils playoff history, I thought I might offer up just a bit of interesting historical analysis.

When it comes to the regular season, Brodeur had the Hurricanes’ number. He is tied with Henrik Lundqvist, go figure, for the most career wins over the team (33). However, when it came to the playoffs, Brodeur only won one series against the Hurricanes, ending up with a 10-14 record.

If we only look at some of Brodeur’s basic numbers, we question even more why he couldn’t find post-season success against Carolina.

For starters, over his 52 game, regular-season career against the Hurricanes, Brodeur had a 0.913 save percentage and a 2.21 goals against average while facing on average 24.5 shots per game.

Now those same stats, however, were even stronger in the playoffs despite the opposite end results. Of his 24 games against Carolina, Brodeur had a 0.922 save percentage and 2.05 goals against average while facing a higher average of shots, around 26.9 shots per game.

The case I make here is that when Brodeur was truly tested, his numbers fell and we aren’t talking about a crazy number of shots either.

In playoff games where Brodeur faced less than or equal to 20 shots, he was 7-2. When he faced more than 20 shots in a game his record fell to 3-12. In the one playoff series he won against Carolina, only one game did he face more than 20 shots, a game he lost.

That isn’t to take anything away from Brodeur, who by all accounts is a deserving Hall-of-Famer and made some remarkable saves in every series he played in, but it does show he wasn’t the one stealing games.

It instead highlights the strength of the Devils’ defense and stifling style back in the day. Further backing that up is that of Brodeur’s four playoff shutouts against the Hurricanes only one occurred when facing more than 20 shots, a tremendous 44 save effort in Game 5 of the 2009 Conference Quarterfinals.

Again, not to discredit Brodeur, but it does seem to hold true that his kryptonite was playoff Hurricanes. So if anything, the Devils, or maybe more likely Martin Brodeur, may see the Carolina Hurricanes as true playoff rivals.