Season series -- Though both teams are approaching the halfway point in their schedules, they're seeing each other for the first time -- they play three times in a span of 12 days during February. New Jersey took three of four from Carolina last season, with Martin Brodeur recording a pair of shutouts. Zach Parise, currently on injured reserve for the Devils, led all scorers with 3 goals.
Big story -- The Hurricanes begin the new year with some ground to make up in the Eastern Conference playoff race, though the deficit they face is nowhere near as daunting as it was last season, when a terrific second half still wasn't enough to compensate for a woeful start. The Devils hope the 2011 portion of the schedule has much better things to offer as they try to climb out of the NHL basement.
Devils -- New Jersey enters the new year riding on the winds of its first victory in seven games, a 3-1 win home victory against the Atlanta Thrashers on New Year's Eve. It was the first victory for new coach Jacques Lemaire since he replaced John MacLean on Dec. 23 and provides a flash of hope for the Devils' otherwise bleak season.
Johan Hedberg had the start in the Devils' Friday victory. So far this season, Hedberg has five victories in 12 starts.
"I'm doing whatever I can to help this team, whether it's playing or watching," said Hedberg, who signed with New Jersey as a free agent over the summer after playing with Atlanta. "To come back and beat them after the way they beat us makes this better. I think this will give everyone a boost. We haven't had a lot of breaks lately, so this was big to get the win."
Hurricanes -- It's not often you hear about a general manager addressing his team in the middle of a game, but that's exactly what Jim Rutherford did before the third period of Carolina's game in Toronto on Tuesday. With the Hurricanes and Maple Leafs locked in a 3-3 tie, Rutherford tried to inspire his players, who went on to snap a three-game losing streak with a 4-3 victory. They followed up with a 4-0 win over the Senators on Wednesday behind Cam Ward's 37 saves and a pair of goals from Zach Boychuk.
"I address the players a couple of times a year, but not during games," Rutherford said. "We were playing just to get by. We didn't have that determination and look like a team that wanted to get into the playoffs.
"I didn't want this to wait any longer. My frustration and my patience ran out, so I decided to say a few words."
Who's hot -- New Jersey's Ilya Kovalchuk has two points (1g-1a) in two games and boasts the second most points on the team with 20… Carolina's Patrick Dwyer has consecutive games with a goal and an assist for the Hurricanes.
Injury report -- Parise remains out following knee surgery and is joined on New Jersey's injured reserve list by fellow forward Jacob Josefson (hand) and defensemen Bryce Salvador (concussion), Mark Fraser (hand) and Matt Taormina (ankle). … Carolina forward Jiri Tlusty (arm) is out indefinitely.
Stat pack -- Kovalchuk has put up gaudy numbers against the Hurricanes in his career, registering 31 goals and 61 points in 49 games -- that includes 3 assists in two games after he joined the Devils. … Sergei Samsonov has 18 goals and 31 points in 40 career games against New Jersey, though in three games for Carolina he hasn't recorded a point.
Puck drop -- Ward's shutout was his second of the season and the 14th of his career. Carolina will rely on the former Conn Smythe winner heavily down the stretch as it attempts to get back into the top eight in the East.
"It's just like anybody else, we're looking at the standings and seeing us just below that red line," Ward said. "You don't want to see too much of a gap where you can't catch up by the end of the season so it's important that you take care of the games against teams that are below you or right there with you."