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Devils top Hurricanes, gain ground in wild-card hunt

by Kurt Dusterberg

RALEIGH, N.C -- The New Jersey Devils have had reason to pack it in, but they kept fighting and somehow are creeping toward a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

One night after losing three forwards to injuries, the Devils held on to one-goal lead for more than half of the game before leaving with a 3-1 win against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena on Saturday night.

The Devils (34-28-16; 84 points) extended their season-best point streak to seven games (4-0-3) and pulled within one point of the Columbus Blue Jackets in the race for the Eastern Conference's final wild-card berth into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"I've known the character in that room for the three years I've been here," Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. "I knew there was no quit in that dressing room and these guys were going to play until they tell us we can't play anymore."

Coming off a 2-1 win against the Washington Capitals in which Patrik Elias, Adam Henrique and Jacob Josefson were injured, the Devils relied on excellent goaltending from Cory Schneider and a strong defensive effort.

"These kinds of wins are fun," Schneider said. "You work hard and you leave everything out there. You're exhausted at the end, but it's a good feeling. "

Dainius Zubrus put the Devils on the board at 15:33 of the first period with his 12th goal. New Jersey jumped on a turnover in the neutral zone and pushed the puck to Zubrus, who drove between the faceoff circles and beat Carolina goalie Anton Khudobin with a backhand between the pads. Michael Ryder and Mark Fayne earned the assists.

Carolina tied the game at 4:50 of the second on Jeff Skinner's 31st goal. Skinner's shot appeared to hit the crossbar, allowing play to continue for several seconds, but video review showed that the shot went under the cross bar and hit the back bar.

New Jersey did hit the goal post in regaining the lead at 6:34 of the second. Travis Zajac deflected defenseman Marek Zidlicky's wrist shot from the top of the circles off the left post and into the net for his 17th goal. Tuomo Ruutu found Zidlicky to set up the play.

The Hurricanes twice came close to tying the game midway through the third after Ruutu was whistled for tripping. Schneider had to be at his best during the ensuing Carolina power play, stopping Jordan Staal in close before denying Alexander Semin on a point-blank shot from the bottom of the faceoff circle.

Schneider admitted to a little fatigue during the sequence, as Carolina maintained possession in the offensive zone for most of the power play.

"But when you're in a rhythm and you're not thinking about it, you feel pretty good and you've got to find a way," Schneider said. "Everyone is a little tired, but you don't feel it nearly as much when you pull games like this out."

Zubrus sealed the win for New Jersey with an empty-net goal with 38 seconds remaining. He has 13 goals.

DeBoer credited his players who stepped into the lineup after not dressing against the Capitals.

"[Stephen] Gionta and [Steve] Bernier were fresh," the Devils coach said. "[Jon] Merrill was excellent on defense. The legs we put in the lineup really helped."

In Zajac's estimation, there was no doubt that the Devils were the better team.

"We played well today coming off a back-to-back," he said. "We were engaged, we had good focus. We responded well when they scored. For the most part, we controlled that game."

Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller was not pleased with some of his players' effort.

"There are no excuses. You either win or lose," Muller said. "You get out of it what you put into it. Some guys really put everything into it, some guys didn't. We didn't have everyone on the page tonight, and when you are playing tight games like this with a different mentality, you won't get the result."

Defenseman Jay Harrison, who had five hits in 20:31 of ice time, felt the Hurricanes had more to give.

"[The Devils] played more desperate than we did. That's the bottom line," he said. "They outpaced us and outpushed us and they beat us in chances. That was the difference in the game."

New Jersey's work is not done. A 4-0-0 finish would give the Devils 92 points, likely enough to qualify for the playoffs. In the meantime, they will take comfort in being within striking distance.

"It puts us within a point, at least for a night," DeBoer said. "It's nice to be that close."

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