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NJD Notebook 4.13: Playoff prep begins

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils – With their playoff opponent set, the Devils hit the ice Monday morning to prepare for the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

The Devils will have some momentum to start the series, which opens Wednesday at Prudential Center (7:30 p.m., MSG Plus). They surged to four wins in their final five games of the regular season, including a 3-2 triumph in Saturday’s finale against the Hurricanes.

New Jersey faced Carolina three times in the final three-and-a-half weeks of the 2008-09 campaign, something Brendan Shanahan believes will benefit the Devils in the early going.

“It’s probably a good thing that we’ve seen them a lot recently, and we’ve also seen them playing at their best as well – they’ve been one of the hotter teams in the NHL over the last month or so,” Shanahan said. “That tells us the type of challenge that we have in front of us.”

For Shanahan, one of the main storylines in this series rests between the pipes.

“Goaltending is going to be a huge part of the series," Shanahan said. “Marty (Brodeur) is maybe the best goalie that’s ever played, and they’ve got one of the hottest goalies in the NHL (in Cam Ward).”

Brodeur is coming off a season in which he missed 50 games with an elbow injury and returned to set a new NHL record with his 552nd career victory. The four-time Vezina Trophy collected 19 wins in 31 appearances, including five shutouts to move within two of Terry Sawchuk’s all-time mark.

Brodeur already knows what it takes to succeed in the playoffs, having backstopped the Devils to Stanley Cup titles in 1995, 2000 and 2003.

“There’s a lot of teams that would love to have the experience that we have in the playoffs,” Brodeur said. “But we take it step-by-step. You have to get through the first round and hopefully get that feeling that you’re invincible. If you get past the first team, you feel good about yourself.”

Carolina’s Ward, meanwhile, notched a career-high 39 wins and has shown he can get it done in the playoffs. Ward, who earned the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the Hurricanes’ 2006 Stanley Cup run, was 3-0 with a 1.67 goals-against average and .951 save percentage in three starts against the Devils this season.

“Any team needs to have quality goaltending, and (Ward) certainly gives them that,” head coach Brent Sutter said. “He’s been a Conn Smythe winner, he’s won a Stanley Cup – he’s a very good goalie. Obviously I know him very well from coaching him for three years in junior (with Red Deer).”

Sutter said he could see early on that Ward had the makings of a solid NHLer. Ward won 40 games at Red Deer in 2003, when the Sutter-led Rebels went on to a WHL championship.  

“You could tell in his mannerisms and the way he was. He was technically very good and he worked hard,” Sutter said. “He treated practices like games, he was very professional at a young age and very mature for his age. The success he’s having at the NHL level is not surprising to me.”

Though Ward had the Devils' number during the regular season, team captain Jamie Langenbrunner doesn’t put much stock into those results at this time of year. Three of the four meetings were decided by one goal, and the slate is wiped clean once the playoffs begin.

“Obviously our team matches up well against certain teams,” Langenbrunner said. “But I don’t think their 3-1 record was necessarily indicative of how we match up. We both match up well, but I think they’ll be tight games like the last two have. Those are closer to what playoff hockey will be like.”  

Ward was a rookie in 2006, when the Hurricanes ousted the Devils in the second round. He opened the series with a 6-0 blanking in game one, and limited New Jersey to five goals in his four wins.

A lot has changed for both clubs in the three years since.

“Every year is different,” Langenbrunner said. “We have how many different players in this room from 2006? How many players are at different points in their career, better players or more experienced? There’s too many factors; it’s never the same thing.”

One of the biggest differences has been the development of Zach Parise, who was only a rookie when the Devils and Hurricanes last met in the postseason. The Devils’ leading scorer this past regular season, Parise notched a career-high 45 goals and 94 points – two points shy of Patrik Elias’ single-season franchise record.

“Number one thing in this league, you need to make sure you’re ready and your team is ready," Langenbrunner said. "You can know anything you want about them, but you need to make sure your own team is ready to go, and that needs to be our focus more than what Carolina’s going to do.”

• Devils defenseman and Miami University of Ohio alum Andy Greene watched his RedHawks fall in overtime, 4-3, to Boston University in Saturday’s NCAA Division I national title game.

“It’s tough to swallow especially being with Pando at the time,” Greene said. “It’s a tough one but it was a good game. You can’t really fault them for it, they played hard.”

Jay Pandolfo, a member of the Terriers’ previous national title in 1995, went easy on Greene after Colby Cohen scored for BU 11:47 into the extra session. The Terriers scored twice in the final minute of regulation to force OT.

“He was pretty pumped up, but he wasn’t rubbing it in my face,” Greene said.

• Rod Pelley was recalled from Lowell (AHL) and skated with the team Monday. Pelley had 15 goals and 23 assists for 38 points in 75 appearances this season with the Devils’ affiliate. He played in 58 games for New Jersey last season, collecting two goals and four assists.
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