Road to Cup Goes Through Jersey (Again)
For the fourth time in five playoff appearances since moving to North Carolina, the Hurricanes will face New Jersey in the playoffs. Carolina has won two of the three prior series, including consecutive meetings in 2002 and 2006, both years that saw the Canes advance to the Stanley Cup Finals.
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In perhaps not great news for the Canes, the team with home ice advantage won all three prior series. The Devils, the higher-seeded team this time around, host the first two games on Wednesday and Friday before the action shifts to Raleigh on Sunday and Tuesday.
For the season series, the Canes won both of their home games and split their two games at New Jersey, both of which came in the last two weeks of the regular season. The Devils avoided the sweep with a 3-2 victory this past Saturday with the help of two odd bounces from the same area of the Prudential Center boards.
“Don’t dump it into the one corner,” said Eric Staal of what the team learned from Saturday’s preview. “Unless you’re going on offense.”
With great play in goal, responsible defense and skilled players up front, the Canes and Devils seem to match up fairly evenly. If the Hurricanes have one advantage entering the series, it’s momentum. Although they lost their last two games of the season after a postseason berth had been wrapped up, they posted a 13-3-2 record to close the year.
Meanwhile, the Devils were 11-8-1 during the same time period, including a season-high six-game losing streak that ended on April 3. However, the Devils may have turned it around at the right time with four wins in their last five games.
If both teams play the way they’re capable of, expect a long, back-and-forth series.
“In the games that we’ve played against this team going back, I don’t really remember a blowout one way or another,” said Maurice. “Great goaltending, both teams work really hard in the small areas of the ice and there will be a lot of grind and a lot of close-scoring games.”
Matt Cullen returned to practice today for the first time since playing in a limited role on March 21 against Washington and will play in Game 1 on Wednesday. At this morning’s session, he centered the fourth line between Tim Conboy and Patrick Eaves, with Jussi Jokinen keeping his spot on the second unit.
“Matt looked real good, so he would go back in,” said Maurice. “I don’t think right out of the gate that we’ll take Jokinen out of that spot. He’s been too good there, and we’ve won a lot of games with him there. With a guy coming off a longer-term injury than we had hoped, it’s difficult to throw him into that pace right away.”