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Preview: Devils vs. Hurricanes

Chance to clinch playoff berth on the line

by Michael Smith @MSmithCanes / CarolinaHurricanes.com

The Carolina Hurricanes will close out their 41-game home slate in the 2018-19 regular season on Thursday night when they host the New Jersey Devils.

And for the first time in eight years, the Canes have something to play for in the first week of April.

That something is a playoff berth, which could be clinched with a win over the Devils, in addition to some out-of-town help.

Just Another Game

The Hurricanes are, in all likelihood, on the verge of ending the NHL's longest active playoff drought of nine seasons.

It could be ended as early as Thursday in a number of scenarios that essentially boil down to a Hurricanes' win and a Montreal loss.

But, you wouldn't know that in talking with the team.

"We can still control our own destiny," Justin Williams said on Wednesday. "The pressure is always on as athletes to compete, thrive and succeed. We plan on doing that."

PROJECTED LINEUP

The Hurricanes have been operating at a desperate, high level since the beginning of 2019, and they've approached each day with a one-game-at-a-time mentality.

Game No. 81 is no different, even if the stakes are elevated. For the Canes, it's the next game on the schedule, the biggest game of the season - until the next game.

"There's a lot going on, yes, and there's a lot riding on it, but that's all stuff that doesn't help you go play a game. At the end of the day, we've got to go do our job, and that's what we're going to do," head coach Rod Brind'Amour said on Wednesday. "We're not in a position to really take much enjoyment out of anything. It's business as usual. We expect to win. We have to win."

Not Throwing Away His Shot

Dougie Hamilton tallied two goals on Tuesday in Toronto to establish a new single-season career high in goals (18), which ranks third-best in franchise history and surpasses his previous career high of 17 set just last season with Calgary. Hamilton's 35 goals since the start of the 2017-18 campaign are the most of any NHL defenseman in that stretch.

"Dougie has been solid," Brind'Amour said on Tuesday. "In the second half of the year, he's really contributed with that offensive flair, which we obviously need."

The Last Meeting

A 3-2 loss in New Jersey on Feb. 10 was the only blemish on an extended road trip in which the Hurricanes won four of five games. In that afternoon contest, the Devils built a 2-0 lead in the first period to put a flat Canes squad in an early hole. Carolina halved the deficit in the second period and scored on a 6-on-4 power play in the third period but fell just short. 

The Opposition

With 70 points (30-40-10), the Devils rank 15th in the Eastern Conference. They're 5-4-1 in their last 10 games and are coming off a 4-2 win over the New York Rangers in their home finale on Monday night. Just 10 of New Jersey's 30 wins this season have come on the road, which ties Ottawa for fewest road wins in the league in the 2018-19 campaign.

"Here's the problem: People look at, OK, you're where we are and they're where they are, that's a win. Couldn't be further from the truth. They've beaten us twice, and the game we beat them here, we scored two goals in the first 30 seconds and then didn't get a goal the rest of the game," Brind'Amour said. "We know how tough this game is going to be. What poses is a challenge is that we can't take a breath now. We can't come off what we did last night. It's a shift at a time. We've got to maintain that focus and not get ahead of ourselves."


ADVANCE AUTO PARTS KEYS TO THE GAME

1. Preparation

There's a lot riding on tonight's game, but ultimately, the Canes have to prepare as if it was just another gameday. Approach Game 81 like Game 80 and the 79 before that.

2. Execution

Execute the game plan. Play in the Devils' end. Control the puck. Put shots on net. Be quick in transition.

3. Have Fun

Playing too tight or letting the pressure build won't lead to good things. Be loose and enjoy the moment. Above all else, have fun.


AT THE RINK

What better way to cap off Fan Appreciation Week and the 2018-19 home schedule than getting a win and clinching a playoff berth? Help make it happen, fans. Bring the noise. Bring the energy. Blow the lid off PNC Arena.

Giveaway alert! The first 10,000 fans in attendance will receive a Hurricanes flag.

Tailgating on a Thursday? Sure! Why not? We'll keep the party going with a South Plaza Party, which begins at 5 p.m. and features inflatables, the Canes mobile tour, outdoor lawn games and more on the south plaza of PNC Arena.


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