Remember when the Carolina Hurricanes were coming apart at the seams and the New Jersey Devils were looking like they were going to run away with the division? It wasn’t all that long ago, to be honest. It was less than a month ago that the Devils led the division by eight points and were ahead of the Hurricanes by 11, albeit with Carolina holding a game in hand.
Since then, the Hurricanes have been on an 8-0-1 tear, while the Devils have come back to earth going 2-4-2. That means that tonight’s showdown at PNC Arena has first place in the division on the line, and it’s been a very long time since a Canes/Devils matchup had such high stakes.
The Hurricanes’ lineup tonight will look very similar to the one that came from behind to beat Pittsburgh on Sunday. Sebastian Aho skated this morning but Rod Brind’Amour wants to make sure he gets through a full practice before reinserting Aho into the lineup, and with the Canes unbeaten in his absence, who can blame him for taking his time?
Jack Drury was assigned on paper to Chicago yesterday to save a few bucks on the salary cap, but he’ll be in the lineup tonight and you’re forgiven if you had no idea that he was technically sent down – the Canes didn’t even issue a news release about it. Pyotr Kochetkov will be in net tonight, his 13th start in the Hurricanes’ last 15 games. Any question about who the Hurricanes’ #1 goalie is has been well and truly answered by now, hasn’t it?
Here’s how the Canes will skate tonight:
Andrei Svechnikov - Paul Stastny - Martin Necas
Teuvo Teravainen - Jesperi Kotkaniemi - Seth Jarvis
Jordan Martinook - Jordan Staal - Jesper Fast
Stefan Noesen - Jack Drury - Derek Stepan
Jaccob Slavin - Brent Burns
Brady Skjei - Brett Pesce
Calvin de Haan - Jalen Chatfield
Injuries and Scratches: Dylan Coughlin (healthy), Sebastian Aho (lower body), Frederik Andersen (IR lower body), Max Pacioretty (LTIR Achilles), Ondrej Kase (IR concussion)
Despite the Devils hitting a rough patch, they’re still really, really good. And it’s been a long while since we’ve been able to say that about the Hurricanes’ onetime playoff sparring partner.
Vitek Vanecek has given the Devils clarity in goal, something they have struggled to find for many, many years. Jesper Bratt bet on himself with a one-year deal after a career year, and all he’s doing is writing himself a blank check for his next contract. Nico Hischier looks every bit the part of a first overall pick. Dougie Hamilton is just doing his thing.
Add it all up and the Devils are a budding juggernaut. Moneypuck has them at 97% odds to make the playoffs, and for a team that’s missed the postseason nine of the past 10 years (finishing either 7th or 8th in the division seven of those nine years), that’s no small feat. The days of meaningful Devils/Hurricanes matchups have finally returned after years in the wilderness.
Here’s how the Devils will take the ice tonight:
Tomas Tatar - Nico Hischier - Fabian Zetterlund
Erik Haula - Jack Hughes - Jesper Bratt
Miles Wood - Michael McLeod - Jesper Boqvist
Yegor Sharangovich - Dawson Mercer - Alexander Holtz
Jonas Siegenthaler - Dougie Hamilton
Ryan Graves - John Marino
Brendan Smith - Damon Severson
Injuries and Scratches: Kevin Bahl (healthy), Andreas Johnsson (healthy), Nathan Bastian (IR upper body), Ondrej Palat (IR groin), Jonathan Bernier (LTIR hip)
Referees: Chris Rooney #5, Kelly Sutherland #11
Linesmen: Libor Suchanek #60, Derek Nansen #70