RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - The handshake line formed as it always does at the end of an NHL playoff series, and Carolina goalie Cam Ward finally got his first face-to-face meeting with idol and counterpart, Martin Brodeur.
"He just wished me well and said, 'Go all the way,' and I just expressed to him that, in my eyes, he's the best," Ward said.
This time, it simply wasn't true.
Ward steadied himself following a rocky start, Cory Stillman got the go-ahead goal on Carolina's first power play midway through the second period and the Hurricanes beat the New Jersey Devils 4-1 Sunday night to win the best-of-seven series in five games.
"I think we deserved it," Carolina captain Rod Brind'Amour said. "We were the better team, we felt it right from Game 1, and now we're moving on."
Frantisek Kaberle, Ray Whitney and Eric Staal also scored for the Hurricanes, who have won eight of their past nine games in the playoffs. They finished off a winning series at home for the first time in franchise history - and will face the Buffalo Sabres next, with the survivor advancing to the Stanley Cup final.
"The feeling is the same, it's that sense of relief," Carolina defenseman Aaron Ward said. "If we didn't do it here, and we didn't approach this like it was our Game 7, what kind of bed are we making for ourselves? The coaching staff preached this was the end-all, be-all game, and we had to take it right now and seize it."
The Devils took a 1-0 lead less than a minute after the opening faceoff, when Brian Gionta took advantage of a fortuitous bounce to beat Ward - the 22-year-old rookie netminder who was pulled after allowing four goals in a little more than one period Saturday. New Jersey won that game 5-1 to avoid a sweep, but Ward bounced back to end the Devils' season a day later.
"Those type of games happen, that's the beauty of a seven-game series," Ward said. "We were able to have a chance to redeem ourselves in the next 24 hours. I think it's just important to how you respond to those situations, and obviously, we responded very well."
He finished with 17 saves, including 10 in the first period when Carolina played short-handed for 8 minutes. The Devils failed to capitalize on any of those power plays, and Kaberle tied the score on the Hurricanes' second shot of the game.
It came when teammate Matt Cullen beat John Madden on a faceoff, and Mark Recchi got the puck to Kaberle along the wall. His shot ricocheted off Devils defenseman Paul Martin and past Brodeur, electrifying another capacity crowd at the RBC Center.
"You sit back a little bit on your heels and wait and see what's going on," Brodeur said. "The crowd's able to turn around their team and tweak them up by one little hit, one little save on net. It's just an opportunity missed. That's the bottom line."
After Carolina killed off another penalty early in the second period, New Jersey was called for its first infraction. Defenseman David Hale was sent to the box for cross-checking, and Stillman made the Devils pay 50 seconds later.
Brind'Amour carried the puck in and passed to Justin Williams, who quickly fed Stillman on the doorstep with Brodeur out of position. It completed a nifty 3-on-2 - Brian Rafalski and Brad Lukowich were back on defense - and the Hurricanes had the lead.
"It was great that we finally got a power play," Brind'Amour said. "You don't see it very often, where we score on the rush, but it was nice that we were able to tic-tac-toe it around."
Stillman later left the game with an apparent leg injury, when he and New Jersey defenseman Brad Lukowich got tangled up along the boards. He was helped off the ice by Brind'Amour and Williams, then headed straight to the locker room.
"At this time, without extensive work from the hospital, it doesn't appear serious," Carolina coach Peter Laviolette said.
And Ward helped his team stay in front. He was surprisingly unflappable following his performance Saturday, even after Gionta's early goal on New Jersey's first shot. Zach Parise chased down the puck in the corner, and his whirling shot bounced off the knees of Carolina defenseman Mike Commodore.
It skittered to Gionta, who controlled it with his skate before lifting the puck over Ward's shoulder into the back of the net. The goal ended a four-game pointless streak for Gionta, the worst stretch of the season for the Devils' leading scorer.
"When you get the opportunities that we had there, you can take the momentum right out of the game," New Jersey general manager and coach Lou Lamoriello said. "That's what happens in these types of games. We just didn't get it done."
Notes: New Jersey D Colin White, who missed five games with a groin injury before playing in the final three of this series, finished without a point in four games in the postseason. ... Referee Mike Leggo made an interesting call late in the first period, stopping play even though the puck was loose beside Brodeur. The goalie was prone on his back, and Cullen was furiously poking at the puck when the whistle blew. ... Devils D Tommy Albelin, who will turn 42 next week, picked up the puck when the game ended - an indication he might retire.
|Brian Gionta (3) ASST: Zach Parise (2), Brian Rafalski (8)|
1 - 0 NJD
|Frantisek Kaberle (1) ASST: Mark Recchi (4), Matt Cullen (3)|
1 - 1 Tie
|PPG - Cory Stillman (4) ASST: Justin Williams (5), Rod Brind'Amour (5)|
2 - 1 CAR
|Ray Whitney (4) ASST: Doug Weight (6), Andrew Ladd (2)|
3 - 1 CAR
|EN - Eric Staal (5) ASST: Matt Cullen (4), Mark Recchi (5)|
4 - 1 CAR
|Bret Hedican Holding the stick against Jamie Langenbrunner|
|Andrew Ladd Interference against Zach Parise|
|Ray Whitney Tripping against Paul Martin|
|Mike Commodore Hooking against Viktor Kozlov|
|Rod Brind'Amour Interference on goalkeeper against Martin Brodeur|
|David Hale Cross checking against Cory Stillman|
|Tommy Albelin Interference against Justin Williams|