Carolina contests feeling like a series
Tonight's game second of three meetings in 12 days
“It creates a different matchup a little bit when you see a team a few times in a row, and we’re going to see them again [on Saturday],” said starting goaltender Johan Hedberg. “It becomes like a mini-playoff series.”
New Jersey is looking to continue its improbable march toward the playoffs tonight. They trail Carolina by 14 points for the final playoff spot, but have closed the gap on eighth place by 13 since Jan. 8.
“They’ve always played the same way against us,” Jacques Lemaire said. “Intensity is a big part of this game. Skating is a big part of this game. Puck control. Every time we do get the puck, we have to be careful what we do with it. We have to skate, skate, and skate, because this is a team that moves the puck well, skates well. They play a good offensive, defensive game. You have to be careful when you turn the puck over, they have guys that can make plays, guys that go to the net and create a lot of chances.”
Hedberg and the Devils needed overtime to beat the Hurricanes 3-2 on Feb. 8. After tonight, the Rangers visit Friday before the Devils close out the season series Saturday in Raleigh. With three meetings in a span of 12 days, the Devils will know their opponent well.
“But at the same time, they pick up on our tendencies, too,” Hedberg said. “They try to break down where they can take advantage of us. It’s both good and bad, I think.”
By now, the Devils (22-30-4) know to keep an eye on rookie sensation Jeff Skinner. The 18-year-old has torched them for two goals in each of their first two encounters this year.
“Absolutely,” Hedberg said. “He scored two on me last time. He’s a dynamic player, he’s very, very quick at getting into scoring position. He’s definitely one guy, but they have many weapons.”
Andy Greene and the Devils defense will be busy.
“He’s good around the net,” Greene said. “He had two goals against us when we played them down there, too. He’s a good young player, he works extremely hard. You’ve got to know where he is on the ice, and make sure you box him out and get a good stick on him.”
WIth postseason spots still up for grabs, both clubs will be hungry.
“They’re battling too for the playoffs, and they’re going to want every point they can [get] right now,” Greene said. “Obviously we know our situation. It’s going to be an intense game, and we’re looking forward to it.”
What will make the playoff drive even more of a challenge is the number of teams still ahead of the Devils in the standings. Buffalo, Toronto and the Islanders all won Tuesday night. The idle Devils slipped to 14th in the East.
“But it doesn’t really matter what other teams do,” Hedberg said. “We have to focus on what we’re going to do and how many games we need to win. If it would be in a race where there’s one or two games left and you count on something to happen, you would pay more attention. Right now, the only thing we can do is take care of our own business. If we get enough points to make the playoffs then we deserve to be there.”
These next two games against Carolina could put the Devils even closer to their goal.
“I think we have tons of things to play for,” Hedberg said. “We have a chance, but we can’t look too far ahead. That’s the big thing. We have to take one game at a time and just try to go out and win that one. You move on to the next one when that one’s over. But to start worrying about things you cannot control, it creates distractions that you really cannot do anything about anyway.”