RALEIGH, N.C. – The New Jersey Devils can be excused for this lacklustre effort against the Carolina Hurricanes.
They have been surging since Martin Brodeur returned from an elbow injury and chased down the NHL record for wins by a goalie. One night after he broke Patrick Roy’s career mark by winning his 552nd game, New Jersey was done in by playoff-hungry Carolina.
The Hurricanes, who had four days off since returning from a winless three-game road trip, pounced on New Jersey. Anton Babchuk scored twice, Eric Staal got his team-high 34th goal and Sergei Samsonov added one in a 4-2 victory Wednesday night over the Brodeur-less Devils.
Carolina began a three-game homestand and ending the Devils’ four-game winning streak. The Hurricanes have won a season-high six in a row at home.
New Jersey played without Brodeur, who set the wins record Tuesday night by beating Chicago. It was the first time Brodeur missed a start in 10 games since returning from an elbow injury on Feb. 26.
Kevin Weekes made 28 saves in place of Brodeur.
“It’s been a week where it’s been a high emotional week and for all the right reasons,” Devils coach Brent Sutter said. “We’ll regroup and get back at it. We knew what to expect. They’d been sitting for four days waiting for us.
“The outcome isn’t like shocking because when you give up three power-plays goals, it’s a tough night.”
The Hurricanes, with 81 points, moved into a tie with Montreal for seventh place in the Eastern Conference – three points above ninth-place Florida and the post-season cutoff.
Carolina went 3-for-5 on the power play against the Devils, who are among the best penalty-killers on the road. New Jersey, second in the East, allowed three man-advantage goals in a game for only the second time this season.
“It was a game where 5-on-5 we played well and yet it was a night where you needed your special teams to be good,” Sutter said. “Our PK got three power-play goals on us.”
Babchuk, who notched his first multigoal game of the season, opened the scoring 10 minutes in with a poke at the right post after Weekes was unable to control a pair of rebounds. Staal gave Carolina a 2-0 lead 1:25 into the second period with a sharp-angle slap shot from the bottom of the right circle.
“We got to do a better job (on the penalty kill),” New Jersey forward Patrik Elias said. “They have a lot of skills on the power play but we have to be better.”
Zach Parise scored New Jersey’s first goal when the Devils were on a 5-on-3 man-advantage with 6:38 left in the second period.
But Babchuk restored Carolina’s two-goal cushion with 38 seconds left in the second period when he blasted a low slap shot through traffic from the top of the slot.
“I’ve been playing more lately and trying to take advantage of it,” Babchuk said. “I knew they played last night and thought they would be more tired.”
Sergei Samsonov made it 4-1 with 7:46 left in the third, and Brian Gionta scored with 2:17 left in the game to bring the Devils back within two goals.
Weekes got his first start since Feb. 19 and saw his first action since March 7 in relief of Brodeur. Carolina’s Cam Ward, making his 19th straight start, stopped 41 shots.
Notes: New Jersey C John Madden played in his 700th NHL game. Staal extended his point streak to four games. He has two goals and four assists during this stretch. Parise has points in six straight games (3 goals, 5 assists).