NEWARK, N.J. - The New Jersey Devils are heading to the playoffs in a good frame of mind, and it has nothing to do with a late goal or a couple of lucky bounces that helped them beat Carolina for the first time this season.
Dainius Zubrus scored the game-winner with 4:26 to play and the Devils got two other goals on gift-wrapped bounces in a 3-2 decision Saturday in a possible preview of a first-round playoff series.
David Clarkson and Zach Parise also scored for the Devils, who won four of their last five games after enduring a season-high six-game losing streak.
"These are long seasons and you're going to have stretches of up and downs and the playoffs are the same way, up and down," said goaltender Martin Brodeur after making 23 games in posting career win No. 557.
"We have to understand that you can't be affected by what's going on all the time because when you do it affects how you perform.
"In the playoffs, it's important to be composed and I think we got out of the funk that we were in and we did a good job and we all did it together."
The Devils, who won their third Atlantic Division title in the past four years Thursday and will be the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference, will play either Carolina or Pittsburgh in the opening round.
Philadelphia assured itself of the No. 4 or 5 seed in the conference by beating the New York Islanders 3-2 on Saturday.
Coupled with the Flyers' win, the Hurricanes' loss in their regular-season finale means that they will be either the No. 5 or 6 seed in the conference.
If Pittsburgh gets a point against Montreal on Saturday night, Carolina will drop to No. 6 and play New Jersey. If the Penguins lose in regulation, Carolina will be the No. 5 seed and play Philadelphia.
"Mentally for us, it's good to end on a win," said Parise, who finished his best regular-season with 45 goals. "It's good to go into the playoffs off of a high like this, winning a tough game."
Anton Babchuk scored two power-play goals for the Hurricanes, who gave goaltender Cam Ward the last day of the regular season off after 28 straight starts.
Michael Leighton had 32 saves filling in for Ward, but he made a bad clearing play on the game-winner by Zubrus and also was embarrassed when two bad bounces led to open-net goals in the first period.
Leighton was making his first start since Feb. 5. On the game-winner, Brian Gionta intercepted his clearing pass around the boards, skated behind the net and then found Zubrus in front for a shot into a wide-open net.
A couple of fluke bounces also caught Leighton out of position behind the net on the goals by Clarkson and Parise.
Brian Rolston sent an innocent pass into the Hurricanes' zone in the opening minutes and Leighton went behind his net to play the puck. But it hit something as it wrapped around the boards and came out in front to Clarkson for a shot into an open net for a 1-0 lead at 2:52.
Babchuk, whose booming shots from the points have resulted in 12 goals in his last 24 games, tied the score a little less than four minutes later when his slapshot seemed to deflect off defenceman Johnny Oduyda and beat Brodeur.
Another crazy bounce gave New Jersey a 2-1 lead at 11:57.
With Carolina about to be called for a goaltender interference penalty, New Jersey defenseman Niklas Havelid sent a hard dump-in into the same corner where Rolston had earlier shot the puck on Clarkson's goal.
Leighton again went behind his net to play the puck and again it hit something on the end boards and caromed across the mouth of the open goal. Carolina defenseman Joe Corvo seemed to touch the puck, but did not control it, which could have brought the whistle for the delayed penalty. Parise then poked Corvo's stick and the puck slid into the net.
"We got a couple of bounces," Devils coach Brent Sutter said. "It's been a while since that happened."
Babchuk tied the game with another hard shot from the point in the third period, but Zubrus' goal gave New Jersey its first win over New Jersey in four games this season.
Carolina centre Eric Staal said the results of the season series should give the Hurricanes some confidence.
"We knew we can beat them and we can beat them in this building," Staal said. "Those are positives things to know going into the playoffs."
Ward got his first day off since Feb. 7. He posted a 19-7-2 record in the run and led the Hurricanes to the playoffs. He had a 2.30 goals against average, a .922 save percentage and three shutouts in the span.
NOTES: Havelid returned to the lineup after missing three games with an upper body injury. ... Veteran Devils C Bobby Holik was a healthy scratch for the second straight game. ... NASCAR driver Ryan Newman attended the game. ...Parise's goal gave him 58 points at home this season, tying the franchise record set by Patrik Elias in 2000-01.