Pittsburgh's 3-1 win Saturday night in Montreal locked Carolina into the sixth seed with 97 points, and set up a Devils-Hurricanes best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal.
The Devils, meanwhile, posted a 3-2 victory Saturday for their first win in four meetings with Carolina this season. Dainius Zubrus
broke a 2-2 tie with 4:26 remaining in regulation, while Zach Parise
and David Clarkson
had the other goals for the Atlantic Division champs.Martin Brodeur
registered 23 saves for his first win in two appearances against Carolina this season. He has held the Hurricanes to four goals in those two games, which included a career-high 46 saves in a 2-1 home loss on March 28.
Parise had two goals in this year's season series, and said Saturday that three losses to Carolina shouldn't have any bearing on what happens in their upcoming postseason battle.
"Win one, win two, what's the difference?" said the Devils' leading scorer. "I think we've matched up pretty well against them and every time we've lost it's been tight the whole way through. We'll see what happens."
The Devils faced the Hurricanes three times in the final three-and-a-half weeks of the regular season, and four times since Jan. 6. Patrik Elias
(2g-2a) and Brian Rolston (4a) were the Devils' leaders. Rolston had two assists in Saturday's game for his fourth multipoint outing of the year.
Rod Brind'Amour had six points (6a) against the Devils, but defenseman Anton Babchuk has burned the Devils for four power-play goals and an assist in four games. Babchuk struck twice with the man advantage in Saturday's contest.
"We happen to know Carolina a lot because we've played them so much here since January," said head coach Brent Sutter, whose Devils won a franchise-record 51 games. "We've seen them play a lot here recently, and obviously they're playing very well."
Carolina's Cam Ward started the first three games of the season series and posted a 3-0 mark with a 1.67 goals-against average. In his last appearance versus the Devils, Ward recorded 31 saves in a 2-1 win at Prudential Center.
This will be the fourth postseason meeting between the teams. The Devils needed six games to win their 2001 Eastern Conference quarterfinals matchup with the Hurricanes, and went on to an appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Carolina, however, has won their last two postseason series clashes with the Devils, including the 2006 Eastern Conference semifinals, which they captured in five games.
Elias (1g-4a) and Jamie Langenbrunner (1g-4a) were the Devils scoring leaders in that series, while Eric Staal had three goals and four assists to pace all Hurricanes. All three skaters figure to have a big impact on their respective clubs when the upcoming quarterfinal gets underway either Wednesday or Thursday at Prudential Center.
Ward, who had a career-high 39 wins this season, started all five games against the Devils in the 2006 semis and allowed five goals in his four wins, including a shutout. Jay Pandolfo had the game-winner in New Jersey's 5-1 triumph in game four at the Meadowlands.
Carolina eliminated New Jersey in six games of the 2002 quarters, when current Devil Kevin Weekes secured the final two wins of the series for the Hurricanes. Brian Gionta had both of the Devils' game-winners in the series.