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Brodeur back as Devils, Hurricanes try to end skids

by Brian Hunter

DEVILS (13-11-6) at HURRICANES (15-12-2)


Last 10: New Jersey 3-5-2; Carolina 5-4-1

Season series: Third and final meeting of the regular season. The Hurricanes will be going for the sweep, while the Devils will be trying to figure out how to contain Jiri Tlusty. Carolina has 10 goals in its two wins over New Jersey, with Tlusty accounting for four of them, two in each game. Ilya Kovalchuk has three goals for the Devils.

Big story: Both teams are in a precarious situation. The Devils dropped out of the top eight in the Eastern Conference for the first time all season after Tuesday's loss to the Rangers, their third in a row. The Hurricanes have lost four straight and are clinging to a playoff spot, but on the plus side they're only two points out of first place in the Southeast Division and a No. 3 seed.

Team Scope:

Devils: Martin Brodeur will finally be back in the crease for New Jersey on Thursday, and not a moment too soon. Brodeur hasn't started in 14 games, dating back to a Feb. 21 win in Washington, due to back issues caused by a pinched nerve. He dressed as Johan Hedberg's backup on Tuesday, but unless Brodeur could have put a puck past Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist over the final two periods, there's probably not much he could have changed in the Devils' 3-2 loss. Travis Zajac and Anton Volchenkov erased one-goal deficits in the first period, but the offense was stymied from there.

"When we don't get the first goal, we're chasing the game the rest of the night," coach Peter DeBoer said. "The effort was there, but it's been there almost every night. We have to translate that into points and that's the bottom line. A lot of that for us is starting strong and getting the first goal."

Hurricanes: For the second time this season, Carolina fell victim to its Southeast rival Florida, which has tasted victory an NHL-low eight times. A scoreless game into the third period Tuesday turned when the Panthers' offense erupted for three goals in a span of just over six minutes. Jordan Staal's power-play goal with 2:33 remaining was answered by an empty-netter moments later as the Hurricanes suffered a 4-1 defeat. They fell two points behind the Jets, who rallied Tuesday to beat the Bruins.

"We have to pick it up as a team," goalie Dan Ellis, who made 40 saves, told the Raleigh News & Observer. "We've let a few games slip here in the last little bit and it's just not good enough."

Who's hot: Devils defenseman Peter Harrold has a goal and an assist -- both on the power play -- in the past two games. … Ellis is making a case for the bulk of the playing time with Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward on the shelf -- although he hasn't been rewarded with a win in his last two starts, he's stopped 75 of 79 shots, a .949 save percentage. He also picked up an assist, his second of the season, on Staal's goal Tuesday.

Injury report: New Jersey forward Alexei Ponikarovsky left Tuesday's game and no update was immediately given. Forward Andrei Loktionov (upper body) has missed the past two games, but practiced Wednesday. Forward Dainius Zubrus (wrist) remains on injured reserve. … Carolina defenseman Justin Faulk suffered a sprained MCL on Tuesday and is expected to miss 2-4 weeks. Defenseman Joe Corvo (lower body) is expected to miss about a week. Forward Chad LaRose (concussion) is out indefinitely. Ward (knee) and forward Tuomo Ruutu (hip) are on injured reserve.

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