Besides the change in venue, tomorrow’s game at New Jersey is shaping up to be an awful lot like the last time the Hurricanes and Devils met on March 18.
Of course, the Canes would gladly take the same result, a 4-2 victory, but there are some notable similarities from where we stand on Friday. The Devils will again be playing their second of back-to-back games (with travel involved), the first being against the Chicago Blackhawks, as was the case last week. The Hurricanes, meanwhile, will be coming off a few days of rest.
Although that should be a built-in advantage, Hurricanes Coach Paul Maurice isn’t sure that will be the case tomorrow.
“I think we look at our record on back-to-back nights, and we keep that into consideration when we see a team,” said Maurice, whose team is 11-3-0 on the second half of back-to-back games. “New Jersey’s success is always based on fundamentals and hard work. You know exactly what game they’re playing when they get off that plane. I think of all the teams in the NHL, the back-to-back probably affects Jersey less than most.”
Whether the Devils skaters are tired or not, the greatest significance of this situation may be that the Hurricanes could again dodge the NHL’s all-time wins leader, goaltender Martin Brodeur. He is expected to play in Chicago tonight, meaning the Canes could face backup Kevin Weekes again tomorrow.
Weekes stopped 28 shots in the last meeting and wasn’t necessarily the reason the Devils lost, but the benefit of the doubt should always go towards one of the greatest goaltenders in hockey history.
“Cleary [Brodeur] is the best in the world, but when he was out, their third goalie, Scotty [Clemmensen] went in and that team went on an absolute tear,” said Maurice. “That’s the strength that New Jersey has.”
The upcoming match-up with the Devils will be the Hurricanes only game in a seven-day period, which started after Wednesday’s win over Ottawa. Although the time to rest and heal minor injuries is undoubtedly a good thing, the Canes will have to be careful to maintain their momentum going forward.
“The rhythm of a schedule and the cadence of it is an important part of the feeling,” said Maurice. “I think we needed the two days off, but I’d certainly rather be playing Monday and get back into the rhythm of it.”
Scott Walker practiced with the team today and said he was “very close” to returning. He’s undergone a new therapy routine since his brief re-entry to the lineup earlier this month, and isn’t experiencing any of the symptoms that troubled him before. Maurice said earlier this week that he was a possibility to play tomorrow, and it would seem that nothing has changed since then.
Saturday’s game is the third of the season between Carolina and New Jersey, with the Hurricanes taking the first two meetings at home. Two of the Hurricanes’ six remaining regular season games are against the Devils, including both road games still on the schedule. That’s a lot of hockey in a short time against one team, and it could be even more with a potential first-round playoff match-up a definite possibility.
Since last week’s meeting, the Devils lost two of three, including defeats against Boston and Philadelphia to record their first losing streak since early January. Wouldn’t you know it, the Hurricanes had a part in that, beating the Devils 3-2 in Raleigh for the first game of that mini-slide.