The Devils celebrate Zubrus' go-ahead goal in the third period of Saturday's win.
newjerseydevils.com – The Devils finished the regular season on a high note, and now wait to find out who their opponent will be when the Stanley Cup playoffs begin next week.
On Saturday, Dainius Zubrus broke a 2-2 tie with 4:26 left in regulation and the Devils wrapped up their 2008-09 with a 3-2 victory over the visiting Carolina Hurricanes.
Brian Gionta fed the puck to Zubrus from behind the net, and Zubrus one-timed his 15th of the season shortside through Carolina goaltender Michael Leighton at 15:34.
Zach Parise and David Clarkson also scored for New Jersey, which ended the 82-game slate with four wins in their final five games (4-1-0). Brian Rolston added two assists for his fourth multipoint game of the season.
"It was important to play well in a game like this," head coach Brent Sutter said. "It was important for us to finish off."
The Devils (51-27-4) benefited from a pair of unpredictable bounces in the first period to take leads of 1-0 and 2-1.
Both Parise and Clarkson put pucks into open nets after Devil dump-ins caromed off the boards and in front of the Hurricanes' goal with Leighton out of position.
Parise's team-leading 45th goal of the season tied him with John MacLean for the third-most in franchise history. With 94 points, Parise tied Kirk Muller for the second-highest total by a Devil. Patrik Elias set the record of 96 in 2000-01.
Martin Brodeur made 23 saves to record his 19th win of the season and 557th of his career. The four-time Vezina Trophy winner stopped everything Saturday except two power-play blasts by Carolina defenseman Anton Babchuk.
The third-seeded Devils, who could face the Hurricanes when the opening round begins Wednesday or Thursday, won for the first time in four meetings with Carolina this season. New Jersey avoided its first sweep by the Carolina/Hartford franchise since 1984-85.
"It's good the way we finished strong," captain Jamie Langenbrunner said. "I don't know if this win in particular could pay dividends if we end up playing these guys (in the first round), but we at least have that good feeling going. We more importantly got our game back over the last week-and-a-half, and that's a good feeling to have."
Carolina ended the season tied in points with Pittsburgh, which was set to play its final game Saturday night in Montreal. Even with the loss, the Hurricanes could still finish fifth if the Penguins failed to get a point against the Canadiens.
Should Pittsburgh lose in regulation, Carolina would own the first tiebreaker by virtue of having one more win. A Penguins win locks the Hurricanes into sixth and a playoff meeting with the Devils.
"All of them are good teams," Parise said when asked about possible postseason matchups. "I don't think there's really any easy teams now. I'll check (the scoreboard). Now we just wait and see what happens."
Parise said team speed is what would make either the Hurricanes or Penguins a challenging playoff opponent.
"(Carolina) and Pittsburgh play a pretty uptempo style of game, and they have a lot of dangerous players," Parise said. "Teams are in the postseason for a reason. It'd be tough no matter what."
Leighton, making his first start since Feb. 5, finished with 32 saves. He got the nod over Cam Ward, who was 3-0 this season versus the Devils.
Two fortunate bounces had the Devils in front by a 2-1 count at the end of the first period.
Clarkson put his 17th of the season into an open net after Rolston's dump-in hit a chink in the boards and caromed in front at 2:52. Leighton, who had gone behind the goal to play the puck, was caught out of position and couldn't recover.
Babchuk responded for Carolina, tying the contest with his 15th of the season on a power-play slapper from the top of the right circle at 6:34.
Leighton was caught out of the net again when Parise broke the 1-1 tie. The Devils held a 6-on-5 manpower advantage with a delayed penalty coming to Carolina, and Niclas Havelid put the puck into the right corne. Once again, it redirected to the front of the net, and this time Parise outreached Joe Corvo to knock it home at 11:57.
The scoreless second period included Brodeur's second minor penalty of the season when he was called for holding the stick against Eric Staal. Carolina didn't record a shot for the opening 8:26, and the Devils outshot the Hurricanes, 13-8, in the period.
"I made the save, the puck was in the corner and (Staal) was still jamming at my pad," Brodeur said. "The stick kept on going up, so I just grabbed it for one second. It's my fault because I looked at the referee while I was grabbing it. Maybe I should've just looked away and maybe I would've gotten away with it. I just didn't understand why he was still banging away."
Babchuk knotted the game at 2 with his one-timer from the point 4:42 into the third period. The Hurricanes' power play ended the afternoon 2-for-4. With his two markers, Babchuk finished the season series with five points in four games (4g-1a) against New Jersey.
Langenbrunner was on the ice late in the game, after Carolina had pulled Leighton for an extra skater with 52 seconds left. He came up with the puck after Brodeur had cleared the puck toward the neutral zone. There wasn't enough time on the clock for a shot at the empty net and a bid for first 30th goal season.
"I knew there wasn't enough time," the captain said. "I tried to knock it down and spin. I obviously knew it was there, but it is what it is."
NJD NOTES Parise matched Elias' club mark (2000-01) of 58 points on home ice. ... Colin White was scratched from Saturday's lineup. ... 2008 Daytona 500 winner Ryan Newman was in attendance at the Rock. ... Gionta reached the 40-assist plateau for the second time in this career. ... Havelid returned to the lineup after missing three games with a lower body injury.
• Zubrus' third game-winner of the season had the centerman feeling good after the game. The Devils have shrugged off their six-game losing skid from March 22-April 1.
"More than anything, I think we've played more to our strengths," Zubrus said. "We're cycling and getting to shots and there's traffic. Those are plays that make us successful. We could've had more than three goals."
Sutter was pleased with Zubrus' play. "He's playing the way he needs to play again," Sutter said. "I think he got away form it the last couple week or so like our team did. He seems to be finding his way.
• Though the Devils' power play went 0-for-11 over their final two games, the man advantage has produced plenty of scoring opportunities. That's something the team will look to build on heading into the NHL's second season.
"We did some good things," Langenbrunner said. "Now it's going to be a little bit tougher heading into the playoffs because you're going to be seeing the same team over and over again, and they're going to know all your tendencies. There won't be any surprises, but we definitely did some good things."
Said Parise: "We had a lot of great chances. The puck movement was really good, the (zone) entry was really good, now it's a matter of getting one or two (goals). We did everything but score – we had great puck movement tonight."
• After seeing the Hurricanes burned by a couple of crazy bounces, Brodeur said he always scouts out any potential problem areas when he's in net.
"I do make a point of looking, just because of the Zamboni entrances, doorways, the glass, a lot of different things like where the benches are," Brodeur said. "I always pay attention every time I go to the net. I look around to see if there's a door or anything. Sometimes when the kids are scraping the ice, they close it down and I think on the Island there's a hook to keep the glass flat, and sometimes they forget about it. I always pay attention."
Brodeur said the Devils' last-season surge was a credit to the team coming together when it counted.
"They're long seasons, and you're going to have stretches that are up and down," he said. "The playoffs will be the same way. We have to understand that we can't be affected by what's going on all the time, when you do it affects how you perform. In the playoffs, it's important to be composed. We got out of the funk that we were in, and we all did it together. It wasn't one guy that took us out of the hole we were in; everybody chipped in."
• New Jersey improved to 15-8-3 all-time in season closers on home ice, including a 3-0-1 mark in their last four.
• The Devils finished 2008-09 with a 28-12-1 mark at home and 23-15-3 on the road.
1 - 0 NJD
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 NJD
2 - 2 Tie
3 - 2 NJD
Holding the stick