By Dan Pieringer
Carolina (45-29-7) at New Jersey (50-27-4), 1:00 p.m. EDT
NEWARK, New Jersey (AP) -- The New Jersey Devils have locked up
the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs by setting a
franchise record for wins in a season.
Thanks to a franchise record of their own, the Carolina
Hurricanes are still battling so they don't have to face the
Devils in the first round.
After having their team record-tying nine-game winning streak
snapped in their last game, the Hurricanes look to bounce back
and help their postseason standing Saturday afternoon when they
try to sweep their season series against the Devils in each
team's regular-season finale.
New Jersey (50-27-4) clinched its eighth Atlantic Division title
in 12 years and a third-place finish in the East with a 3-2
shootout win at Ottawa on Thursday night. It was the 50th
victory for the Devils, breaking the franchise mark of 49, set
After going 0-5-1 over its previous six, New Jersey has won
three of four.
"We're on our way," said winger Zach Parise, who scored one of
the Devils' two shootout goals. "We did a pretty good job of
eliminating opportunities, and we've got to start burying some
of our chances, too, but we're getting there. We knew it wasn't
going to be overnight but we've got one more game before the
playoffs and we're slowly getting there."
The Devils' last regular-season game could be a preview of their
first-round playoff series. The Hurricanes (45-29-7) won nine
straight from March 18-April 7 to secure a postseason berth for
the first time since they won the Stanley Cup following the
2005-06 season. They're tied with Philadelphia and Pittsburgh
with 97 points and could finish anywhere from fourth to sixth.
The Hurricanes and Penguins play their regular-season finales
Saturday, while the Flyers have two games remaining.
In such a tight race, the Hurricanes know they missed an
opportunity in their last game. They had their winning streak -
and a club-record 12-game run at home - snapped with a 5-1 loss
to Buffalo on Thursday night. They trailed 5-0 before Eric
Staal's 40th goal with 27.1 seconds remaining helped them avoid
their second shutout loss of the season.
"We got back to playing the way we don't want to play, and
that's slow, kind of losing some of those little battles that
we've been winning in the last month," winger Ray Whitney said.
"But we're not going to go right to the gutter after this, by
any means. ... We realize that if we don't bring it every night,
we're not that good."
Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said he wasn't worried about his
team dwelling on that defeat Saturday.
"In order to stew over something, you have to leave it in the
pot for a long period of time," Maurice said. "This one will be
out in the garbage and not talked about again."
Maurice's club has won its first three meetings with New Jersey,
including a 2-1 road victory the last time the teams met March
28. The Carolina franchise is in position to sweep the Devils
for the first time since winning all three meetings during the
1984-85 season, when it was based in Hartford.
Hurricanes wingers Tuomo Ruutu and Sergei Samsonov have been the
offensive catalysts so far in the series. Ruutu has two goals
and two assists, and Samsonov has three goals and one assist.
Carolina's Cam Ward is 3-0-0 with a 1.67 goals-against average
against New Jersey.