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Red-hot Kovalchuk leads Devils vs. Hurricanes

by Brian Hunter /
DEVILS (24-30-4) at HURRICANES (28-23-8)


Last 10:
New Jersey 8-1-1; Carolina 4-4-2

Season series: Fourth and final meeting this season and the third in a span of 12 days between these teams. The home team has been victorious in each matchup so far. Carolina doubled up New Jersey 6-3 on New Year's Day, but the Devils have responded with a pair of 3-2 wins over the Hurricanes as part of their resurgence.

Big story: New Jersey has its sights set on the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. Carolina currently holds it. If the Devils win in regulation Saturday they can cut the Hurricanes' lead down to 10 points. Of course, there are four other teams they must climb over as well, but New Jersey could also close to within five wins of the .500 mark, something that seemed unattainable a month ago.

Team Scope:

Devils: The biggest question New Jersey faces coming into this game is who will start in goal. Martin Brodeur is healthy again and dressed Friday night, but backup Johan Hedberg has been lights out since taking over after Brodeur sprained a knee ligament a couple weeks ago in Montreal. Hedberg made 15 saves for his 16th career shutout and Ilya Kovalchuk continued his recent tear with a second-period breakaway goal as the Devils edged the Rangers 1-0 on Friday.

"Heddy is playing well at a time when we need him," Kovalchuk said. "With Marty almost back, they are both great goalies and they both deserve to be in the net, so it's great when you got that competition between the two goalies."

Hurricanes: Prior to Friday night's game, Carolina retired the jersey of former captain Rod Brind'Amour, who led the franchise to its first Stanley Cup in 2006. Brind'Amour also played for the opponent in this game, Philadelphia, which continues to lead the East. But the Hurricanes rode the momentum of their fans on this emotional night to record a 3-2 victory, Erik Cole notching the game-winning goal with 3:03 remaining.

"Maybe it was perfect timing to have Rod Brind'Amour's night tonight just because of the inspiration that he gave to us players with his speech," said goalie Cam Ward, who made 21 saves. "It was an exciting night, and we wanted to make it extra special for Roddy to walk away with a win on his night."

Who's hot: Teammates for years in Atlanta, Kovalchuk and Hedberg continue to pace the Devils. Kovalchuk has 7 goals and 4 assists during a nine-game points streak, while Hedberg has won his last five starts, giving up just six goals in that span. ... Cole has 3 goals and 1 assist in his last four games for the Hurricanes, while Jeff Skinner has 4 goals and 2 assists in his last seven games.

Injury report: New Jersey forward Zach Parise (knee) and defensemen Matthew Corrente (shoulder), Matt Taormina (ankle) and Bryce Salvador (concussion) are on injured reserve. ... Carolina forward Ryan Carter (back) is day-to-day.

Stat pack:
Kovalchuk has the game-winning goal in three of the past four games for the Devils. He now has 7 game-winners for the season, tied with Cole and Alex Ovechkin for second in the NHL, one behind Sharks rookie Logan Couture.

Puck drop: That he scored the only goal Friday against New York surprised no one. That he was on the ice protecting the lead in the final seconds with the goalie pulled and the Rangers pressing for the tie is a testament to the kind of faith New Jersey coach Jacques Lemaire has shown in Kovalchuk defensively in recent weeks.

"Yeah, I'm feeling confident," Kovalchuk said. "I've been here more than a year, and the coach trusts me a lot. When you feel that kind of positive thing from behind bench, it gives you a lot of energy and you want to work really hard."

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