Devils-Hurricanes Preview

The Associated Press

One point is all the New Jersey Devils need to return to the playoffs.

They're accustomed to getting two when they face the Carolina Hurricanes, but that wasn't the case last time.

The Devils look to clinch a playoff berth by re-establishing their success against the Hurricanes on Saturday night at PNC Arena.

Currently sixth in the Eastern Conference, New Jersey (44-28-6) needs just one point in its final four games to qualify for the playoffs after having its run of 13 consecutive postseason appearances end in 2010-11.

The Devils moved closer to the postseason by beating Tampa Bay 6-4 on Thursday.

"We have to keep winning," said left wing Zach Parise, who had an assist. "You don't want to rely on any other team have to lose to make it in, so we'll just worry about ourselves and make sure we keep going in the right direction."

Facing the Hurricanes (31-31-16) would seem to be a good way to do that. New Jersey, though, dropped the most recent meeting 4-2 in Raleigh on Dec. 26. The Devils had won nine of the previous 11 regular-season matchups with Carolina.

Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrick Elias combined for four points Thursday, but neither recorded a point in the Dec. 26 loss to Carolina while posting minus-2 and minus-3 ratings, respectively.

Both forwards still have impressive histories against the Hurricanes, as Kovalchuk's 33 goals and 67 points in 55 career meetings are his second-highest totals against any opponent. He has a whopping 41 points in 29 visits to PNC Arena.

Elias has averaged one point in 47 career games versus the Hurricanes, and has totaled eight points the last five times he's faced them.

Rookie center Adam Henrique has found the net once in each of the Devils' last two games against Carolina, and enters this matchup with four points in his last four contests overall after getting two assists against the Lightning.

While the Devils are on the brink of securing a playoff spot, the Hurricanes were officially eliminated from the race Friday after blowing a two-goal lead to Winnipeg. Cam Ward gave up a the deciding score 16 seconds into overtime of the 4-3 loss.

"It was 3-1. We have a chance to bury a team and move forward, and when you keep teams hanging around, generally, they're going to get a second life," Carolina coach Kirk Muller said.

Eric Staal will try to move into sole possession of second place on the franchise goal-scoring list for the Hurricanes, who were the Hartford Whalers until relocating in 1997-98. The center scored his 250th goal Friday, tying him with Kevin Dineen. Ron Francis (382) owns the franchise record.

Staal has five goals in his last six games overall, but none in his last 11 meetings with the Devils.

Ward was credited with his first career goal in the last meeting, while stopping 23 of 25 shots to earn the win. It's unclear if he'll be back in net after making 31 saves Friday.

Ward's 2-7-1 record and 2.82 goals-against average in his last 10 games against New Jersey might influence Muller to use backup Brian Boucher.

Boucher is 7-3-1 with a 1.72 GAA and one shutout in his last 11 meetings with the Devils, including eliminating them in five games as a member of Philadelphia in the opening round of the 2009-10 playoffs.

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