PLAYOFF SERIES: Eastern Conference semifinals; Game 1.
The teams, who split their four regular-season games, will meet for the third time in the postseason when the Hurricanes host the Devils at the RBC Center.
Carolina dropped its first two quarterfinal matchups against the Montreal Canadiens, but rallied to win four in a row and advance beyond the opening round for just the third time franchise history. All four of the Hurricanes’ wins came by one goal, and two victories came in overtime.
Eric Staal, who led the Hurricanes with 45 goals and 100 points, assisted on Stillman’s goal and had a team-high eight points in the quarterfinals.
The Hurricanes did not make good use of their home-ice advantage in the first round, losing two of three at the RBC Center after leading the East with a 31-8-2 home mark. Captain Rod Brind’Amour, who also assisted on the game-winner, realizes his team needs to improve its effort.
“We know we’re in for a heck of a series, and I think we’re going to have to play even a little better if we’re going to beat them,” said Brind’Amour, a Selke Trophy finalist.
The Devils followed up their season-ending 11-game winning streak by routing the New York Rangers in the quarterfinals, outscoring them 17-4 and recording just their third playoff sweep in franchise history. The other two came in their Stanley Cup-winning seasons of 1995 and 2000.
The Atlantic Division champs have been idle since a 4-2 win April 29, when Patrik Elias had two goals and an assist. He also matched a Devils single-round playoff record with 11 points.
“We don’t want to pinch ourselves now,” said Elias, who missed the first three months of the season recovering from hepatitis. “We’re feeling good about the game we have been playing. We know the series we played, they had a couple of injured guys but that doesn’t take anything away from the game we played or what we accomplished.”
Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez, who each had two goals and four assists in the quarterfinals—have teamed with Elias to form a potent top line. Gionta scored a franchise-record 48 goals and totaled a career-high 89 points in the regular season while Gomez added 33 goals and a career-high 84 points.
Veteran goaltender Martin Brodeur, a three-time Stanley Cup champion and finalist for this third consecutive Vezina Trophy, had a .965 save percentage and a 1.00 goals-against average against the Rangers. He has started an NHL-record 137 consecutive playoff games and has been in net for every game in the Devils’ 15-game overall winning streak, tied for the longest run spanning the regular season and playoffs.
Brodeur’s next playoff win will be his 89th, giving him sole possession of third place on the all-time list ahead of Billy Smith and Ed Belfour.
For the second straight round, Brodeur’s counterpart will be a goaltender in his first-ever postseason. Rookie Cam Ward relieved an ineffective Martin Gerber midway through Game 2 against the Canadiens and rallied the Hurricanes into the conference semifinals by allowing just eight goals and posting a .940 save percentage.
“We wouldn’t be the first team to ride a rookie goalie all the way to the finals,” Stillman said. “It’s been done before and hopefully he’s the man to do it for us.”
Ward split two starts against the Devils this season, stopping 45 of 49 shots.
Carolina started its run to the 2002 Stanley Cup Finals by beating New Jersey in six games.
Game 2 will be Monday at Continental Airlines Arena.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Devils - 101 points; 3rd seed, defeated New York Rangers 4-0 in quarterfinals. Hurricanes - 112 points; 2nd seed, defeated Montreal Canadiens 4-2 in quarterfinals.
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Devils - Elias, 5 goals and 11 points; Elias and Jamie Langenbrunner, 6 assists; Cam Janssen, 9 PIM. Hurricanes - Brind’Amour, 4 goals; Staal, 6 assists and 8 points; Doug Weight, 10 PIM.
PLAYOFF SPECIAL TEAMS: Devils - Power play: 29.6 percent (8 for 27). Penalty killing: 90.5 percent (19 for 21). Hurricanes - Power play: 20.0 percent (6 for 30). Penalty killing: 77.8 percent (21 for 27).
GOALTENDERS: Devils - Brodeur (4-0, 1 SO, 1.00 GAA); Scott Clemmensen (no appearances). Hurricanes - Ward (4-1, 1.54); Gerber (0-1, 7.20).
REGULAR SEASON SERIES: Devils, 2-1-1. The Hurricanes outscored the Devils 10-2 in two lopsided victories, but New Jersey rebounded with the final two wins, including a shutout. Gionta had two goals and three assists against the Hurricanes this season while Brind’Amour notched three goals and an assist against the Devils.