Nieuwendyk became the 32nd player in NHL history to score 500 goals and the surging Devils gained a small measure of revenge with a 2-1 victory in the opener of a home-and-home series.
“We came out strong and played hard early,” New Jersey coach Pat Burns said. “That got us the rest of the way.”
The Devils were ousted by the Hurricanes in the first round of last season’s playoffs and lost twice to Carolina in October. But the Hurricanes looked nothing like the team that won the Eastern Conference last season. Carolina has dropped five straight games, is winless in its last six and has just five goals in its last five contests.
“We don’t need to beat the fact that we’re not putting the puck in the net. That is obvious,” Carolina coach Paul Maurice said.
An outstanding individual effort by Nieuwendyk accounted for the first goal of the game. The 36-year-old center carried into the Carolina zone, skated around defenseman Sean Hill and deposited the puck past an out-of-position Kevin Weekes with a backhand at 11:18 of the first period.
“I am extremely happy because I am the 32nd guy to do it,” Nieuwendyk said. “It is a big thrill for me. I went wide with it and I felt there was an opportunity to cut back in the middle, and I think Weekes thought I was going to shoot it wide.”
It was just the sixth goal of the season for Nieuwendyk, who was without a tally in his last four games. He had scoreless droughts of 20 and eight games earlier in the season.
“He’s spent a couple of days trying to get it and it will definitely be one that he remembers,” Langenbrunner said. “He was getting anxious for it. You could tell by the chances he was getting.”
Nieuwendyk became the second player to reach the plateau as a Devil and joined Colorado’s Joe Sakic as the second forward to accomplish the feat this season. Sakic recorded the milestone December 11 against Vancouver, while Dave Andreychuk scored his 500th with New Jersey on March 15, 1997 against Washington.
Nieuwendyk was mobbed by his teammates after scoring the landmark goal.
“I was surprised,” Nieuwendyk said. “I was yelling at them to get back on the bench. But it was great. My teammates have been super.”
The Hurricanes controlled play in the second and had a 20-5 edge in shots, but the only goal of the period came when Langenbrunner scored on a wrist shot from the right circle with 15 seconds left.
The Devils killed off a two-man Carolina advantage for more than a minute in the second period, and nearly scored themselves before John Madden was stopped on a shorthanded breakaway by Weekes.
New Jersey, which played without center Patrik Elias due to back spasms, killed off all five power-play chances for Carolina.
“It was important for us not to give them anything on the power play,” New Jersey captain Scott Stevens said. “We did a good job and we killed off quite a few. (Brodeur) made some big saves. He was very patient.”
One bright spot for the Hurricanes was Jeff Heerema, who netted a goal in his first NHL game. A 1998 first-round draft pick who also was celebrating his 23rd birthday, Heerema scored from in close after taking a pass from behind the net by Sami Kapanen.
“It feels good,” Heerema said. “I was fortunate to be on a good line. The adrenaline was going tonight. They told me to shoot the puck at the net, so that’s what I did.”
Heerema became the 11th player in franchise history to score in his debut.
Weekes stopped 25 shots, but lost his fifth straight decision.
The Hurricanes have lost six straight at the RBC Center, including all four games of a homestand that ended Friday.