GAME: Carolina Hurricanes at New Jersey Devils.
PLAYOFF SERIES: Eastern Conference semifinals; Hurricanes lead 3-0.
TIME: Saturday, 3 p.m. EDT.
If rookie Cam Ward can become the first goaltender in NHL history to win his first eight playoff starts, he'll bring the Carolina Hurricanes a stunning sweep of the New Jersey Devils.
Ward looks to break a 76-year-old record and help finish off the Devils when the teams meet at Continental Airlines Arena for Game 4.
Ward, 22, tied the league mark set by Tiny Thompson of the Boston Bruins in 1929-30 with his seventh consecutive win Wednesday, 3-2 over the Devils. If Ward can help Carolina complete the sweep, he will certainly have earned the record, having outplayed New Jersey's Martin Brodeur so far in the East semifinal series.
Brodeur, for one, knows it.
"We have to make it harder for him," Brodeur said. "He's a butterfly goalie who plays his style as good as anyone now. He is just square to the puck and he's making saves."
Ward has allowed four goals in the series, and has a 1.26 goals-against average and .951 save percentage since taking over the No. 1 spot for Carolina after Martin Gerber struggled in the first round. Gerber gave up nine goals in less than four periods of two losses to Montreal before Ward was given the job.
Carolina hasn't lost since.
"When he came in, everyone knows we were in dire straits and the guy looked like he's been around forever," Hurricanes captain Rod Brind'Amour said.
Now, it's New Jersey that's desperate for a big game out of its goaltender. Brodeur played better in a 3-2 overtime loss in Game 2 than he did in a 6-0 blowout in the opener, but the three-time Stanley Cup winner wasn't at his best again in a 3-2 defeat Wednesday, allowing three goals on 24 shots.
Particularly damaging was a soft goal by Matt Cullen that came on a long backhander and caught Brodeur off guard. That seemed to wipe out the momentum Sergei Brylin provided New Jersey with an early goal.
"As far as Marty goes, we can't ask more than what we have gotten from him," Devils coach and general manager Lou Lamoriello said. "For anyone to think something else, I don't have the adjective for it."
Brodeur has allowed 12 goals and has a save percentage of .876 in this series after giving up only four goals in a first-round series sweep of the New York Rangers. Brodeur, though, sounded competitive as ever this week as he prepared to try to keep the Devils from being swept in the postseason for the first time in team history.
"Saturday I just plan on shutting them down. That's what I want to do," Brodeur said.
The Hurricanes' three consecutive victories over the Devils have been completely unexpected after New Jersey rolled into the series with a 15-game winning streak. Now, however, it will have to end Ward's win streak to avoid a dubious franchise first.
The Hurricanes have outscored Montreal and New Jersey 21-9 in winning seven in a row, and have outshot the Devils 100-74. Carolina is looking to advance to the Eastern Conference finals for the first since 2002, when it went on to reach the Stanley Cup finals.
Hurricanes leading scorer Eric Staal assisted on the winning goal Wednesday, shooting a puck that bounced off New Jersey's Sergei Brylin and was steered between Brodeur's legs by Brind'Amour late in the second period to snap a 2-2 tie.
The 21-year-old Staal has four goals and nine assists during an eight-game point streak, extending that run by helping score the kind of goal that has plagued Brodeur and the Devils throughout the series.
The Hurricanes have scored goals on tips, bank shots, even with redirections by skates - theirs and the Devils'.
New Jersey, though, is also struggling to deal with a problem that's far less arbitrary - Carolina's potent postseason power play. The Hurricanes answered each of the Devils' goals in Game 3 by scoring with the man advantage, improving them to a league-best 14-for-48 in the playoffs.
"It was a big win but we know the series isn't over," Carolina forward Mark Recchi said. "We're happy but guys were pretty subdued knowing we've still got work ahead."
If Game 5 is necessary, it would be Sunday night at the RBC Center.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Hurricanes - 2nd seed; beat Montreal Canadiens 4-2, East quarterfinals. Devils - 3rd seed; beat New York Rangers 4-0, East quarterfinals.
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Hurricanes - Brind'Amour, 6 goals; Staal, 9 assists and 13 points; Mike Commodore, 17 PIM. Devils - Patrik Elias, 6 goals and 14 points; Jamie Langenbrunner, 9 assists; Cam Janssen, 26 PIM.
PLAYOFF SPECIAL TEAMS: Hurricanes - Power play: 29.2 percent (14 for 48). Penalty killing: 83.3 percent (35 for 42). Devils - Power play: 21.4 percent (9 for 42). Penalty killing: 74.4 percent (29 for 39).
GOALTENDERS: Hurricanes - Ward (7-1, 1 SO, 1.45 GAA); Gerber (0-1, 7.20). Devils - Brodeur (4-3, 1, 2.32); Scott Clemmensen (0-0, 0.00).
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