The New Jersey Devils jumped out to a 3-0 in the first period and wouldn’t look back en route to an eventual 4-1 victory over the Hurricanes on Saturday. It marked the Devils’ third triumph over Carolina in the month of February, with this night’s visitors having won two games at home over the last 11 days.
The Devils’ win also continued a run of 10 straight games without a regulation loss dating back to Jan. 26 – a run that has helped close the gap on the 8th-placed Hurricanes after a very slow start to the season.
“Unfortunately we couldn’t hit them earlier in the year," said Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice "We had to wait until they were peaking. If they can keep it going, it’s going to be one hell of a run.”
It didn’t come as a total surprise that the Hurricanes would experience an emotional letdown to start the game, as Friday’s ceremony honoring retired captain Rod Brind’Amour carried them to one of their strongest first periods of the season one night earlier.
The opposite was true on Saturday, although the Hurricanes said that wasn’t necessarily due to the contrast between the two nights.
“I didn’t feel that out of the gate in the first six or seven minutes,” said Maurice. “I think the penalties (two in the opening 12 minutes) killed us because it got us a little bit on our heels.”
“I don’t know if we can pin it exactly on yesterday, but we did come out sluggish and it’s a tough team to come out sluggish against,” said Patrick Dwyer, who scored the Hurricanes’ only goal 6:49 into the third period, his first since Dec. 29.
Dwyer’s goal snapped a shutout streak of 106:54 for goaltender Johan Hedberg and the Devils, dating back to Hurricanes’ forward Tuomo Ruutu’s tally with five seconds left in Wednesday’s meeting between the two teams. Between that goal and Dwyer’s, the Devils recorded a shutout of the New York Rangers on Friday, with Hedberg making 16 saves.
“Once they get the lead it’s a tough team to get those goals back on," said Dwyer.
In their recent series with the Devils, the Hurricanes found any kind of offense difficult to come by. In nine periods of February hockey between the two teams, the Canes mustered 10 or more shots just once. That came during the third period of the Feb. 16 game, when they threw 16 at Hedberg, scoring two late goals to make things interesting.
“In a way they kind of frustrated us and we started making uncharacteristic plays, and that will hurt you against this team,” said Dwyer.
Following Dwyer’s goal, it looked as though the Hurricanes might have a similar rally up their sleeves. The Devils’ Mark Fayne was whistled for interference less than two minutes later, resulting in a glorious point-blank power-play chance for Sergei Samsonov that Hedberg counted among his 24 saves.
“We’ve had a couple of those (comebacks) where we’ve hung on and stayed in the fight, and you could feel it going a bit and he made some good saves,” said Maurice.
“That might be the turning point,” said Dwyer. “We get the goal and the power play, and Hedberg makes a great save on Sammy. It would be a 3-2 game there with still 10 minutes left in the game and it would have changed it.”
Instead, the Devils’ Danius Zubrus scored his second goal of the night with just under eight minutes remaining, effectively killing the Hurricanes’ chances at a comeback. Zubrus, who opened the scoring with a tip on Fayne’s point shot just 1:14 into the game, came down the right wing and beat Carolina goalie Cam Ward glove side with a high shot inside the near post.
While Maurice hinted that Ward, who made 21 saves in his 19th consecutive start, may like to have that one back, he did not fault him for any of the Devils’ goals in the first period.
“The first goal is a tip, the second one we put in (a deflection on Henrik Tallinder’s point shot), and now you’re right where you don’t want to be against the team,” said Maurice. “I’m not looking at our goaltender in this one, that’s for sure.”
Even after their winning streak and three head-to-head wins, the Devils are still 10 points behind the Hurricanes for playoff position in the Eastern Conference. If things continue as they are, New Jersey may join Buffalo and Atlanta as Carolina’s biggest threats.
“If they can keep that pace going, then they deserve to be,” said Maurice.
NOTES: Hurricanes defenseman Joni Pitkanen skated during warm-ups but did not play due to a lower-body injury. Friday trade acquisition Derek Joslin made his Carolina debut as a result, logging 11:07 of ice time ... Joe Corvo skated a game-high 27:11 … Ward’s personal record for consecutive starts is 28. The franchise record is 40, set by Arturs Irbe … Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk, who registered an assist on Tallinder’s goal, now has 64 points in 53 career games against Carolina.