Devils face 'Canes in final game before Olympics
DEVILS (37-20-3) at HURRICANES (23-30-7)
New Jersey 3-5-2; Carolina 8-2-0
Third of four meetings this season. New Jersey has won twice on home ice, with Martin Brodeur
stopping all 26 shots in a 2-0 win on Oct. 17 and Andy Greene
recording his first career two-goal game in a 4-2 victory on Dec. 9.
Although these teams continue to reside at opposite ends of the Eastern Conference standings, the Devils haven't had an easy time with the Hurricanes this season -- both previous wins were one-goal games until a late empty-netter -- and Saturday's battle figures to be the toughest yet. Carolina has won five straight at the RBC Center and eight of 10 overall, while New Jersey has lost five straight on the road and eight of its last nine.
Two important things happened Friday night for New Jersey. First off, the Devils got two points, disposing of the visiting Predators by a 5-2 final. Secondly, their three-goal, third-period outburst was triggered by a goal from Ilya Kovalchuk
, the sniper's first since being acquired eight days earlier from Atlanta. Kovalchuk was one of five Devils to finish the night with a goal and an assist.
"A game breaker is important and Ilya did it today for us," Brodeur said. "Other players will do it once in a while but that's why we brought him in. Today he was and that's going to jumpstart everybody."
In spite of its recent surge, Carolina still sits 14th in the East and 10 points out of a playoff spot entering Saturday's action. The Hurricanes made a deal Friday by sending forward Matt Cullen to the Senators in exchange for defenseman Alexandre Picard and a second-round pick in the 2010 Entry Draft. They can enter the Olympic break on a five-game winning streak if they beat the Devils.
"It's a long season, and you can't count yourself out until you're mathematically counted out," veteran goalie Manny Legace said. "We struggled through Christmas, but I really do think it was a jelling period and now the guys are starting to come together and playing like a team every single night. This is the way we can play. This has been great to watch."
Who's hot: Travis Zajac
has goals in consecutive games for New Jersey and has collected five goals and five assists in his last eight. Zach Parise
missed a game earlier this week due to an upper-body injury, but has also scored in each of the last two he's played.
Jussi Jokinen, who leads Carolina with 21 goals, has six goals and three assists during an eight-game points streak. Ray Whitney has a goal and three assists during a four-game points streak. Brandon Sutter is coming off a three-point effort against Buffalo.
Devils defenseman Anssi Salmela
has missed the last two games after being knocked unconscious Monday against the Flyers, and may not return until following the break. Forward Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond
was placed on injured reserve Friday, where he joins forward David Clarkson
(leg) and defenseman Paul Martin
Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward (back) and forwards Erik Cole (upper body), Chad LaRose (upper body) and Scott Walker (shoulder) are all sidelined.
Greene had five goals and 25 points in 132 games over parts of three seasons with New Jersey before posting the same totals in just 56 games this season. He is seventh on the team in scoring and leads all defensemen. … Picard had four goals and 15 points in 45 games this season for Ottawa. He has 16 goals and 57 points in 184 career games over parts of five seasons with the Flyers, Lightning and Senators.
Fans at the Prudential Center were so thrilled to see Kovalchuk finally score that numerous hats were tossed on the ice following his goal Friday.
"It was kind of neat, it was kind of a welcome and I appreciate it," Kovalchuk said. "It's nice when the fans are behind you. Scoring that first goal is good. Next time I'll get a hat trick."