RALEIGH, NC - There may just be two games left in the New Jersey Devils season but Thursday night's game against the Carolina Hurricanes is an important one in the eyes of the Devils coaching staff and management.
Carolina is in the hunt to clinch a playoff spot and can do so with a win against New Jersey in regulation or overtime, coupled with a Montreal loss to Washington. With a lot on the line for Carolina, the atmosphere and compete level against the Devils are expected to be at a different level. It is in a game with such importance to the opponent where all eyes will be on many of the Devils young players and how they handle the scenario.
"We talk about evaluation games, this is one where we're going to take a lot of stock into it," head coach John Hynes said. "They're fighting for a wild card spot, they're a playoff team, they've been one of the best teams in the league through the last 20 games. It's a hard building to play in.
"Lots of times you guys ask me, 'Has this guy taken a step?'," Hynes continued. "Let's see tonight when there's no time and space and you're playing against a team that's dialed in and they're looking for the postseason."
The Devils will rely on starter Cory Schneider in net. The game will be the final one of the season for him. After a difficult 14 months of recovery from off-season hip surgery, a subsequent ab injury and a couple of stints in Binghamton, Schneider has found a new stride in his game. Schneider enters the game against Carolina with a .926 save percentage over his last seven starts.
"He feels good about his game and we feel good about his game," Hynes said. "It's a long offseason when you're not in the playoffs. I think when you feel good mentally about your game and your game in order, sometimes that can help springboard you into the summer and into your training."
"I think it's important to finish strong," Schneider said. "Carolina is going to be a tough outing. They're playing hard, they're playing well. They're trying to get into the playoffs so it's not going to be an easy game by any means. For me it means I'll have to be on top of it from the beginning. Whatever happens is going to happen, but as long as I play well and feel good about my game going into the off-season that will be an encouraging sign."
New Jersey Devils projected lineup: