It seems the New Jersey Devils will be locked in a race for the top spot in the Eastern Conference until April. The Carolina Hurricanes, meanwhile, certainly don't want to let their hopes for a Southeast Division title come down to the wire.
Trying to maintain their slim lead in the East, the Devils look to sweep their season series from the Hurricanes for the first time in 16 years when the teams meet on Tuesday night at the RBC Center.
|Martin Brodeur has won all three meetings with the Hurricanes this year, allowing one goal in each game. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
New Jersey (37-21-5) has been red-hot, winning five in a row and going eight straight games (7-0-1) without a loss in regulation to take a one-point lead over second-place Ottawa in the East.
This is the first time since 2001 that the Devils have held the conference's No. 1 spot. The Senators had held at least a share of that position since the second day of this season.
"We're definitely proud of what we've accomplished," Devils center John Madden said. "But at the same time we've got to move forward."
While New Jersey almost certainly has its 11th straight postseason appearance secured, Carolina (32-28-5) is in a much more uncertain situation as it tries to return to the playoffs after missing out last year in a failed defense of their 2006 Stanley Cup title.
The Southeast-leading Hurricanes have 69 points - the lowest total of any division leader. They have won two straight and lead second-place Washington by five points, but likely need to hold on to first place in order to make the postseason.
"It feels like we're down in the stretch and we need to win," Hurricanes center Eric Staal said. "It's that part of the season where we need to make sure we're staying ahead in our division and getting some separation."
A matchup with New Jersey, though, may not help. The Devils have won four straight over the Hurricanes and are 9-2-0 against them since the start of 2002.
Much of New Jersey's success in this series is due to Martin Brodeur's outstanding play. He has started all three of the Devils' matchups with the Hurricanes this season, giving up just one goal in each contest, and is 8-1-1 with a 1.64 goals-against average in his last nine games against them.
Expected to be in goal again, Brodeur can help give New Jersey its first series sweep of the Carolina franchise since going 3-0-0 in the 1991-92 season, when the Hurricanes were still the Hartford Whalers.
On Sunday, Brodeur made 37 saves in his 22nd consecutive start and Madden backhanded a rebound with 50 seconds remaining in overtime to give New Jersey a 2-1 win over Washington.
Brodeur, 14-6-2 with a 2.10 GAA average during his consecutive games streak, is five wins shy of an NHL-record seventh 40-win season.
But Brodeur will be facing a Carolina team that has scored at least five goals in three of the last five games. Matt Cullen scored twice and Staal had the go-ahead score late in the second period to help the Hurricanes beat Washington 6-3 on Saturday.
Carolina finished with 42 shots, giving it over 40 in three straight games for the first time since the franchise moved from Hartford before the 1997-98 season. The franchise last had 40 shots in three straight games when he Whalers did it in 1987.