Devils poised for stern test from Hurricanes

Carolina at New Jersey, Eastern Conference quarterfinal, Game One, 7:30 p.m. EDT

NEWARK, New Jersey (AP) — The Carolina Hurricanes finished the
regular season as one of the NHL’s hottest teams, so there seems
little doubt what to expect from them in the opening round of
the playoffs.

The New Jersey Devils are a different story, despite winning
four of the final five games.

Whether the players want to admit it, Brent Sutter’s team is
bringing some baggage into Game 1 of the best-of-7 series that
gets under way at the Prudential Center on Wednesday night.

Before their late run, the Devils lost six straight. The shuffle
in the standings last weekend also didn’t work to their benefit.
The Canes, who fell from No. 5 to No. 6 in the seedings, beat
New Jersey three times in four games, with the only loss coming
last weekend when Carolina rested goaltender Cam Ward.

There’s one other issue the Devils need to overcome. It’s the
memories of a year ago. New Jersey also had a late-season swoon
and was eliminated by the Rangers in five games in the opening
round, losing all three games at home.

“The way it went last year, without winning a single playoff
game here, we have to do something right away,” said Zach
Parise, whose 45 goals led New Jersey this season.

After practicing for about an hour, Sutter insisted the playoff
problems from a year ago ended last year.

“Last year we weren’t playing very well and at the level we
needed to be,” Sutter said. “Maybe that’s why I harped on them
the past month. I think the last week or 10 days we started
finding our way again. I think everyone knows how things have to
be done. This year is a different makeup and a different

It’s also a different opponent.

No matter how many points separate them, a Devils-Rangers series
is always up for grabs because of the emotional rivalry. Even
home games tend not to be home games.

“You work hard to get the home-ice advantage and you have to
take advantage,” goaltender Martin Brodeur said. “Last year was
tough. For some reason we just didn’t feel at home in the
playoffs. Tomorrow we will feel at home for the first time in
the playoffs. That’s going to feel good. Last year was not a fun
experience, we didn’t play well and the fans had a hard time
cheering. This will be different.”

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Carolina went 13-3-2 in its last 18 games, matching a franchise
record with nine straight wins. Ward posted a 19-7-2 record in
his last 28 starts with a 2.30 goals against average, a .922
save percentage and three shutouts. Eric Staal is one of the
league’s top offensive threats with 40 goals, including 14 on
the power play.

Carolina also has had success in the postseason against Brodeur,
who last month set the NHL record for career regular-season wins
by a goaltender. The Hurricanes are 10-7 against him. They lost
a series to him in 2001, but bounced back for victories in 2002
and 2006, the year they won the Stanley Cup.

“He’s obviously a tough challenge, and he’s just like everybody
else, looking to bring their game to another level in the
playoffs,” Ward said. “So it’s important that we make life
difficult for him out there. For a goaltender, it’s tough to
stop the puck when you can’t see it, and we’ve got to make sure
we have guys around him.”

Carolina’s big offensive weapon against New Jersey was the power
play. It scored on 7 of 16 attempts, getting four goals from
defenseman Anton Babchuk.

Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice expects the Devils to be what they
always are — a very defensive, responsible, tough-minded team
that will roll four lines.

“They’re going to spend all their time to play more and more
like the Devils and not make a tremendous amount of adjustments
in their game,” Maurice said. “Frankly, we probably won’t,
either. You’re 82 games into the way you want to play, and all
it’s going to be is about getting your game out of your team.
And I think, in a lot of ways, these teams are evenly matched in
a lot of areas, so it’s going to be performance and execution.”

New Jersey lacked that last season in the playoffs.

“We feel good about this year,” said center Brian Rolston, a
veteran who was signed by general manager Lou Lamoriello after
the playoff debacle. “We have a lot of experience and we know
what time of year it is. We have to be ready, and we are.”