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Devils open up three-game road trip vs. Hurricanes

by Brian Hunter
DEVILS (44-26-7) at HURRICANES (33-35-10)

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

Season series: Fourth and final meeting of the regular season. The home team has won all three matchups to this point. Martin Brodeur recorded his 102nd career shutout with a 26-save performance on Oct. 17 and Andy Greene notched his first two-goal game in the NHL on Dec. 9 to give New Jersey the leg up. But Carolina responded behind two goals apiece from Ray Whitney and Jussi Jokinen on Feb. 13.

Big story: The Atlantic Division title comes down to this: New Jersey and Pittsburgh each have five games remaining and identical records. If that holds at the end of the regular season, the Devils would prevail through the tiebreaker procedure by virtue of having swept all six games they played against the Penguins. The defending champs host the Thrashers in a Saturday matinee.

Team Scope:

Close-but-no-cigar has been a theme of late for New Jersey, which has dropped four of its last eight games in either overtime or the shootout after losing only three times all season prior in games that went beyond regulation. For the second time in five games, the Devils saw a lead slip away in the final minute on Friday night, as the visiting Blackhawks got a 6-on-5 goal from Kris Versteeg and dealt the hosts a 2-1 loss when Jonathan Toews converted in the shootout.

"It is a concern because I think we're going to play some tight games in the playoffs and losing games like that can change the momentum of a series," Brodeur said. "We have to bear down in those situations. With a minute left, we have to be desperate. The puck needs to get out; we need to get it out by kicking it, batting it … anything. It's got to get out."

Down to its last gasp of air, Carolina will look to stave off elimination for another day and push closer to the .500 mark. The Hurricanes have a winning record at home, where they have always given the Devils problems. They were just seconds away from a big road win in Ottawa on Thursday, but gave up the tying goal with 7.7 seconds remaining and lost 4-3 in a shootout.

"We should have had two points," said goalie Manny Legace, who described the tying goal in agonizing fashion. "The guy wins the draw clean and shoots it, it hits my glove and goes up in the air and goes in the net. It's unfortunate."

Who's hot: Ilya Kovalchuk has four goals and five assists in the last six games for the Devils. Patrik Elias has two goals and five assists in the last six games. … Brandon Sutter has goals in three straight games for the Hurricanes. Jokinen has two goals and two assists during a three-game points streak. Eric Staal and Chad LaRose each have a goal and two assists during three-game points streaks.

Injury report: New Jersey forward Dainius Zubrus missed Friday's game due to illness. … Carolina is playing without forward Tuomo Ruutu (shoulder) and defenseman Tim Gleason (foot) and Alexandre Picard (upper body).

Stat pack: Kovalchuk reached the 40-goal plateau for the sixth time in his career by scoring against the Blackhawks. … Hurricanes defenseman Jamie McBain has three goals, four assists and a plus-5 rating in 10 games since being called him up to make his NHL debut.

Puck drop:
Carolina stunned New Jersey in the seventh game of an Eastern Conference quarterfinal-round series last spring -- the Devils could gain some revenge Saturday by putting the final nail in the Hurricanes' coffin.

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