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Hurricanes eager for playoff's next challenge

by Brian Compton

"We're probably not going to do our summer vacation here. We'll probably go somewhere else."
-- Jussi Jokinen on being happy to leave New Jersey

NEWARK, N.J. -- The Carolina Hurricanes are undoubtedly ecstatic about reaching the Eastern Conference Semifinals following their dramatic 4-3 victory against the New Jersey Devils in Game 7 at the Prudential Center.

It's possible, though, the 'Canes are even more excited about playing a team other than the Devils.

Dating to the regular season, Game 7 marked the 10th time in the past six weeks that Carolina has faced New Jersey. With this series finally over, the Hurricanes don't have to worry about facing the Devils again until at least October.

That's just fine with them.

"We're probably not going to do our summer vacation here," joked forward Jussi Jokinen, who erased a 3-2 deficit on Tuesday night with 80 seconds left in regulation. "We'll probably go somewhere else."

With 12 more wins to go in order to raise the Stanley Cup for the second time in four seasons, Carolina will now face the Boston Bruins, who finished first in the Eastern Conference in the regular season and swept the Montreal Canadiens in the opening round. Boston won the East with 116 points -- eight more than the second-seeded Washington Capitals.

The best-of-7 series begins Friday night at TD Banknorth Garden (7:30 p.m. ET, VERSUS, TSN).

"We're real excited about going to Boston," Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said with a hint of sarcasm. "We will be. I got the job Dec. 4, and this was the 11th time we played (the Devils) in the last four months. I really hope that we don't schedule an exhibition game against these guys."

Carolina goalie Cam Ward -- the unsung hero of this series win against New Jersey -- also is excited, despite the task in front of him. As if finding a way to win four of seven games against Martin Brodeur wasn't enough, the 2006 Conn Smythe Trophy winner will battle Boston's Tim Thomas in Round 2. Thomas is a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's top goaltender.

"It'll be nice to have a little bit of a change," Ward admitted. "I'm not sure what the schedule is, but we're going to enjoy it tonight and get ready for our next opponent tomorrow."        

As they should. It was, after all, an incredibly grueling series that saw two games to overtime and another pair decided in the final minute of regulation. Perhaps that's the biggest reason why -- even if the Hurricanes to have to face the top-seeded Bruins -- Carolina is eager to face any team other than the Devils.

"We have played them a ton, especially at the end of the (regular) season," said center Eric Staal, who scored the game-winner on Tuesday night with 31.7 seconds to go. "It seems like we've been in this building every second day. It'll be fun to look at a new lineup and a new challenge and be ready to go against Boston."

They'll need to be ready. In their four regular-season meetings against the Bruins -- which all took place after Maurice replaced Peter Laviolette behind the bench -- Carolina went 0-4 and was outscored 18-6. But the clubs haven't met since Boston's 5-1 win at the RBC Center on Feb. 17.

"We're a different team than when we played the Boston Bruins in the regular season," Staal said. "We're excited about that. We've got a different lineup. I think we found our team identity after we played the Boston Bruins. Hopefully you're going to see a team that's building off this series and be ready to fight to get to the conference finals."

"We hope we're a different team," Maurice added. "They're the rightful owners of first place in our conference. They'll certainly be well-rested. But, to our advantage, we will be battle tested at this point."

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