Series breakdown: Hurricanes (6) vs. Devils (3)
Regular season series: Carolina won 3-1
The Skinny: This series marks the fourth meeting between these two teams since 2001. Twice, the winner went on to capture the Stanley Cup. No one should be surprised if the Devils or the Hurricanes make it three out of four.
That's not to suggest that either club is a leading contender. Still, it's hard to overlook a team that comes into the playoffs as hot as Carolina (which closed the season 17-3-2) or one that's backed by a goalie that just set the all-time record for wins.
Martin Brodeur will draw a lot of attention in the series, and not because of his history making run. The injury that sidelined him for 50 games helped the new-look Devils prove they were more than just his backup band, but the impact on his own play is TBD. Did the time off save him from the exhaustion that was the root of his recent playoff disappointments, or did it just dull the edge on his game? Tough to say. He looked to be in top form shortly after returning to action, winning nine of his first 10 games before going through a rough stretch in the final month.
The Hurricanes will be ready to test his mettle with three solid offensive units that mix skill with a willingness to go hard to the net. Eric Staal was the league's most dangerous player after being reunited with old running buddy Erik Cole, scoring 36 points in the final month. Rod Brind'Amour, fully recovered from off-season knee surgery, has the old jump in his step and is lethal on the draw. Both contribute to a power play that scored seven times in just 16 chances against New Jersey.
Spotlight's On: Cam Ward. His battles with consistency helped keep the Canes outside the playoffs the last two seasons, but he appeared to rediscover his Conn Smythe form right after Paul Maurice re-racked Carolina's defensive scheme. The results: Ward posted a 19-7-2 record in his last 28 starts with a 2.30 GAA, a .922 save percentage and three shutouts. Salty numbers, but Ward may have to take his game up another notch if he hopes to outduel Brodeur like he did back in 2006.
X-Factor for Devils: Brian Rolston. Even at age 36, the Devils expected more from a player coming off three consecutive seasons of 30-plus goals than the 15 Rolston chipped in this season. The former Devil was repatriated to add some juice to an offense that was looking to become more up-tempo under coach Brent Sutter. The legs are still there. So's that booming slapper. It's time for him to live up to his paper.
X-Factor for Hurricanes: The blueline. Carolina's top six is a relatively non-descript group, but it provides one clear advantage in the series. Four -- Joe Corvo, Anton Babchuk, Joni Pitkanen and Dennis Seidenberg -- scored at least 30 points. (Babchuk comes into the series on a roll, using his heavy shot to collect seven goals in his last 11 games.) More to the point, they finally gelled as a defensive unit under Maurice. They finished strong, holding the opposition to two goals or fewer in seven of their last nine games.
The Pick: Carolina in seven
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