Devils look to close gap on Hurricanes
Tuesday, 02.08.2011 / 9:25 AM
NHL.comHURRICANES (26-21-6) at DEVILS (19-30-4)
MSG (HD) RADIO --
WFAN 660 AM
Last 10 --
Carolina 5-5-0; New Jersey 7-1-2
Season series --
Second meeting of the season between the clubs and the first of three this month. Carolina beat the Devils, 6-3, on Jan. 1. They'll meet again on Feb. 16 in Newark and one more time three days later in Raleigh.
Big Story --
The Hurricanes are in playoff mode already. They held a tenuous grip on the eighth spot on Monday, but that was before the Thrashers played in Atlanta. The Devils are attempting to use the spoilers' role in order to get back in the playoff race. They hammered Montreal, 4-1, on Sunday and are 9-1-2 over their last 12 games.
The Devils have found their mojo and on Sunday they found some resiliency, too. After a tough overtime loss at home to Florida on Friday night the Devils went to Montreal and blew out the Canadiens, 4-1, by jumping on them early with a pair of goals within the first 4:04 of the game.Ilya Kovalchuk
scored twice and now has a team-high 17 goals. He's not closing in on 40, which is his benchmark, but he's at least making a respectable run toward 25 or 30. That seemed so far out of reach just a month ago when he was struggling to hit double digits. The Devils were dead last in the East and 27 points out of a playoff spot one month ago. They entered Monday 13th in the conference and 16 points out of eighth.
"We’re still not looking at (the standings)," center Travis Zajac
told The Record. "We've got a long ways to go. Our mentality has been taking it a game at a time, being prepared every game and trying win as many games as possible. Right now, we're doing that and we've just got to keep it that way and say focused."
While they'd rather not play a three-point game against Atlanta like they did Saturday night, the Hurricanes will take the two points any day of the week. This is a critical stage of the season for this team as it embarks on a five-game road swing that also includes stops in Philadelphia, Tampa Bay and Atlanta before it finishes up right back where it started at Prudential Center in Newark. The Flyers are first in the Atlantic Division. The Lightning are first in the Southeast Division. The Thrashers are one of the teams they're trying to edge out for a playoff berth. And the Devils can ruin the whole thing with the way they're playing. Following the five-game trip, Carolina closes the regular season with 16 of its final 24 games at home.
"We've got a real tough stretch of games coming up, and you don't want to be six or seven (points) out going into that stretch," coach Paul Maurice said. "We want to hold water in this stretch and then make the big push toward the end."
Who's Hot --
Kovalchuk has 3 goals and 2 assists over a four-game points streak and 4 goals and 4 assists over his last six games. He has 7 goals and 6 assists over the last 12 games and the Devils are 9-1-2.
Injury Report --
Devils goalie Martin Brodeur
tweaked his knee during Sunday's game in Montreal and had to pull himself out of the game following the first period. He still got the win, the 40th of his career over the Habs. Brodeur said it's not a major injury.
Stat Pack --
The Hurricanes have had two prior five-game road trips in North America this season. They went 2-3 in October when they visited Ottawa, Vancouver, San Jose, Los Angeles and Phoenix all in a row. They were 3-1-1 in December when they went to Nashville, Dallas, St. Louis, Florida and Atlanta.
Puck Drop --
"In the next (12) days we've got three games against (Carolina)," Kovalchuk told The Record. "That will probably be the key stretch for us. If we want to make a real push, then we have to get points in those games."