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Wild vs. Hurricanes
Tracking the Storm

Searching for Goals in a Tight Series

Tuesday, 04.14.2009 / 12:51 PM / Tracking the Storm
By Paul Branecky
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Searching for Goals in a Tight Series
After years of playing one of the most defensive brands of hockey anywhere, the New Jersey Devils built a reputation as a low-scoring team that won by shutting down the opposition more than anything else.

Paul Branecky
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To assume that will be the case heading into their first-round series with the Hurricanes would be a mistake.

The Devils scored 244 goals this year, which is their highest total since they led the league with a whopping 295 in 2000-01. Although this season’s total still only ranks 15th overall, players like MVP candidate Zach Parise (45 goals - third most in the NHL), Patrik Elias (31) and Jamie Langenbrunner (29) give New Jersey some legitimate firepower.

“I think that their approach hasn’t changed, but their players have,” said Hurricanes Coach Paul Maurice. “Their top two lines have more speed and probably more of an offensive mindset than at any time I can remember.”

Carolina, which some might think of as the higher-octane team, actually finished with five fewer goals than their upcoming opponent.  New Jersey has more 20-goal scorers with five (Travis Zajac and Brian Gionta have exactly 20 apiece), while Carolina has four, although Erik Cole (18) and Chad LaRose (19) came close to joining Staal, Whitney, Tuomo Ruutu and Matt Cullen in that group.

The point of this analysis isn’t to suggest that New Jersey’s underrated offense will make this a wide-open, high-scoring affair - far from it.  The seemingly even match combined with each team’s responsible, structured style of play will probably make it the opposite. Three of the four head-to-head meetings this year were decided by one goal, the other by two, with an average of less than five total goals per game.

“In the playoffs it’s always tight, low-scoring one-goal games, and we’re sort of used to playing that way,” said Sergei Samsonov. “Hopefully we’ll draw some experience from our regular season and go on to have some success in the playoffs.”

That aside, each team has players that can quickly capitalize on mistakes and opportunities. With goals expected to come at a premium, the series may come down to which team has more of those players.

That’s why the performance of Carolina’s third line, currently featuring Rod Brind’Amour, Samsonov and Scott Walker, will be crucial. If that unit keeps playing the way it did down the stretch, the Canes will have the advantage in offensive depth. All three of those players are capable of scoring 20 goals, but slow starts and injuries – now firmly in the rearview mirror for each player - prevented that from happening this season.

In the four-game season series, Brind’Amour led all Carolina players with six points (all assists), while Samsonov finished third with four points (3g, 1a).

“It’s always nice to have a scoring balance, especially in the playoffs,” said Samsonov.

As has been the case all season, the Canes should also get some offensive help from their defense, led by Anton Babchuk, whose four goals against New Jersey were the most of any Carolina player and the most he scored against any NHL team.

Babchuk actually finished the season tied for fifth among NHL defensemen in goals scored, and is only the fourth blueliner in franchise history to score 16, a feat not accomplished since Zarley Zalapski racked up 20 for the Hartford Whalers in 1991-92.

(Side note: when the season started, did you ever think Babchuk would be the first player mentioned in a story about the team's offensive weapons on the power play?)

If Babchuk and company continue their pace from the regular season, the Hurricanes should have a clear advantage in that area. Carolina had four defensemen with at least 30 points (Joe Corvo, Babchuk, Joni Pitkanen and Dennis Seidenberg), while the Devils had just one in Paul Martin.

SCHEDULE

HOME
AWAY
PROMOTIONAL

STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 MTL 63 41 17 5 171 139 87
2 NYR 62 39 17 6 196 153 84
3 NYI 64 41 21 2 205 179 84
4 TBL 64 38 20 6 210 171 82
5 DET 61 35 15 11 180 159 81
6 PIT 62 36 17 9 181 155 81
7 WSH 64 34 20 10 188 159 78
8 BOS 62 31 22 9 165 161 71
9 FLA 63 28 22 13 154 178 69
10 PHI 63 27 25 11 168 183 65
11 OTT 60 27 23 10 171 163 64
12 NJD 63 26 27 10 141 164 62
13 CBJ 62 26 32 4 160 196 56
14 CAR 62 24 31 7 144 167 55
15 TOR 63 25 33 5 170 193 55
16 BUF 63 19 39 5 123 212 43

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Faulk 62 12 28 -18 40
E. Staal 57 18 20 -12 38
E. Lindholm 61 11 16 -18 27
J. Skinner 57 16 10 -17 26
N. Gerbe 58 7 16 -10 23
R. Nash 59 7 15 -10 22
V. Rask 60 8 12 -16 20
J. McClement 62 6 13 3 19
J. Staal 26 4 12 -4 16
A. Nestrasil 34 4 11 4 15
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
C. Ward 17 20 4 .911 2.43
A. Khudobin 7 11 3 .905 2.61