New Jersey Devils' Dainius Zubrus, left, of Lithuania, scores against Carolina Hurricanes' goalie Anton Khudobin, of Kazakhstan, during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, April 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
RALEIGH, N.C. - Marek Zidlicky's shot hit a teammate, then the post. It spun in front of the net, and took a left turn across the goal line.
A few more breaks like that, and these New Jersey Devils might follow a similar, meandering path to a playoff berth.
Dainius Zubrus scored two goals and the short-handed Devils beat the Carolina Hurricanes 3-1 on Saturday night.
Travis Zajac scored the go-ahead goal on his deflection of Zidlicky's second-period shot to help the Devils earn a point in their seventh straight game.
"We've been so close to these kind of wins all throughout the year and just somehow haven't racked them up in a row," winning goalie Cory Schneider said. "If you're going to go on a run, these are the ones you need to grind out, and that's what we've been doing the last couple of games."
They found a way to do it without some of their cornerstone players—forwards Patrik Elias and Adam Henrique, who were both hurt the night before in a win against Washington.
"I knew we had character in that room," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "A lot of people were writing us off, and I knew there was no quit in that dressing room. These guys are going to play right until they tell us we can't play anymore."
The Devils improved to 4-0-3 during a stretch that has given their playoff chances a significant boost.
"We've been picking up points, and we've been playing some good hockey," Zajac said. "We've got to try to find a way to keep this going and see what happens."
Jeff Skinner scored for Carolina, which had its two-game winning streak snapped. The Hurricanes had kept their faint playoff hopes alive by earning points in their previous five games.
"I think a lot of guys" played with desperation, coach Kirk Muller said. "We just didn't have everybody. It's too bad, because we had a few good games here that we went on the road and played hard and earned the points.
"I don't want to take it away from the group of guys that came and did what they're supposed to do and played hard," he added. "But we didn't have everyone on the page tonight, and when you're playing tight games like this, playoff mentality, you're not going to get the result."
Schneider stopped 26 shots for the Devils, including all eight he faced in the third period, for his second straight victory.
Anton Khudobin made 20 saves in his first loss since March 25.
New Jersey won the season series 3-1, and a strange goal initially credited to Zidlicky at 6:34 of the second turned out to be the winner.
His shot from between the circles had some english on it as it hit the left post, and it spun in the blue paint behind Khudobin before curving across the red line. It was later determined that the puck clicked off Zajac on its way toward the net.
"I thought it went in the first time" off the post, Zajac said.
When the Hurricanes couldn't tie it during the final 13 1/2 minutes of the period, the Devils could just about count on a victory: They improved to 22-1-5 when leading after two periods while the Hurricanes fell to 4-24-4 when trailing after 40 minutes.
Zubrus then iced it with an empty-netter with 37.6 seconds left.
Both teams entered on the outside of the playoff picture, though the Devils had a significantly better chance to crack the East's field of eight.
New Jersey entered with 82 points—three behind Columbus, which holds the second wild-card spot in the East, and three ahead of the Hurricanes, who were coming off consecutive 4-1 wins over playoff-calibre teams Pittsburgh and Dallas.
"You get out of it what you put into it," Muller said. "We had some guys that really put everything into it. Some guys didn't, and at the end of the night, you fall short."
Zubrus put the Devils up 1-0 with 4:27 left in the first when he took a feed from Michael Ryder near the blue line, skated in on Khudobin and beat him with a slick backhand.
Skinner tied it 5:31 into the second—with a little help from the video-review crew.
His high, knuckling shot from the right circle appeared to hit the crossbar. A review showed the shot actually hit the camera inside the net—giving him his career-high-tying 31st goal.
"We were engaged, we had good focus and I think we responded well when they scored," Zajac said. "I thought for the most part, we controlled that game."
NOTES: Carolina RW Alexander Semin was back after missing two games with an undisclosed illness. ... New Jersey RW Tuomo Ruutu had an assist in his first game in Raleigh since he was dealt to the Devils at the deadline by the Hurricanes.
Follow Joedy McCreary on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joedyap
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