newjerseydevils.com – With the regular season now in their rear-view mirror, the Devils open the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs tonight against the Carolina Hurricanes (7:30 p.m., MSG Plus, WNYM 970 AM).
There will be few secrets between the clubs when the puck drops on their best-of-seven Eastern Conference Quarterfinal at Prudential Center. They met three times over the final month of the season, including the Devils' 3-2 win in the 2008-09 finale.
But the Devils are looking to improve on their playoff showing from last season, when they fell in five games to the Rangers in the opening round.
"We feel good about this year," said center Brian Rolston, a veteran who was signed last offseason. "We have a lot of experience and we know what time of year it is. We have to be ready, and we are."
The Devils' roster is loaded with five 20-goal scorers, led by Zach Parise's team-high 45. Parise came two points (94) shy of setting a new franchise points record, and hopes to continue to roll in the playoffs.
"There's no need to change anything right now," Parise said. "We'll keep playing hard and see what happens."
Langenbrunner finished one goal shy of his first 30-goal campaign while setting new career highs in assists (40) and points (69). Zajac scored 20 goals for the first time, and also reached career bests in assists (42) and points (62).
That trio will be counted upon for scoring punch against Carolina netminder Cam Ward, who was 3-0 against Jersey's Team during the season. The Devils finished on an upward trend with four wins in their final five games.
"Teams are made a certain way for things to happen," Langenbrunner said. "You need your goalie to play well, you need your 'D' to play well, you need your forwards to score, you need your checkers to check. Nothing should change going into the playoffs."
Could expectations be higher for Parise on the heels of the best season to date? Langenbrunner said the key will be to stay the course.
"The same expectations are on him going into the playoffs that there were going into the regular season," said Langenbrunner. "He's going to be in situations where we'll need him to play well, like all of us. I don't think because it's the playoffs anything has changed."
Parise made his NHL playoff debut as a rookie in 2005-06, when the Devils finished the regular season on an 11-game winning streak and swept the New York Rangers in the first round. They were eliminated by Carolina in the Eastern semis, as the Hurricanes marched on to their first Stanley Cup championship.
Now the fourth-year left wing fuels the Devils' offense. New Jersey was 24-2-0 this season when Parise registered multipoint efforts, and 8-17-0 when he was held off the scoresheet.
"Your best players have to be your best players," head coach Brent Sutter said. "He's considered one of your top players so he has to play well."
New Jersey is set to face a Carolina team that went 13-3-2 in its last 18 games, matching a franchise record with nine straight wins. Ward posted a 19-7-2 record in his last 28 starts with a 2.30 goals against average, a .922 save percentage and three shutouts. Eric Staal is one of the league's top offensive threats with 40 goals, including 14 on the power play.
Carolina also has had success in the postseason against Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur, who last month set the NHL record for career regular-season wins by a goaltender. The Hurricanes are 10-7 against him. They lost a series to him in 2001, but bounced back for victories in 2002 and 2006, the year they won the Stanley Cup.
"He's obviously a tough challenge, and he's just like everybody else, looking to bring their game to another level in the playoffs," Ward said. "So it's important that we make life difficult for him out there. For a goaltender, it's tough to stop the puck when you can't see it, and we've got to make sure we have guys around him."
Carolina's big offensive weapon against New Jersey was the power play. It scored on 7 of 16 attempts, getting four goals from defenseman Anton Babchuk.
Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice expects the Devils to be what they always are - a very defensive, responsible, tough-minded team that will roll four lines.
"They're going to spend all their time to play more and more like the Devils and not make a tremendous amount of adjustments in their game," Maurice said. "Frankly, we probably won't, either. You're 82 games into the way you want to play, and all it's going to be is about getting your game out of your team. And I think, in a lot of ways, these teams are evenly matched in a lot of areas, so it's going to be performance and execution."