Martin Brodeur recorded his ninth career playoff shutout as the Devils grabbed a two games to none lead in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series with a 2-0 blanking of the Hurricanes.
The defending Stanley Cup champions have led for 96 minutes, 52 seconds, although the third period was Carolina's best of the series.
"We play a better game when our backs are close to the wall. And when you get to the third period, Game Two, and you're within striking distance, you find a way to go a little harder," Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said.
Brodeur faced just 10 shots over the first 40 minutes but turned aside eight in the third, when the Hurricanes had three power plays, including two in a row. He squeezed his pads to stop Jeff O'Neill's wrist shot from low in the right faceoff circle with 8:16 remaining. Just over a minute later, defenseman David Tanabe's shot failed to reach the net, but Brodeur scrambled to his feet and turned aside another attempt from the right side.
"For the most part, (the defense) did a great job. But Marty was counted on tonight to make a lot more big saves than he should have," said Devils coach Larry Robinson. "I think when you've got a two-goal lead, you've got to play a lot smarter than we did in the third. That's the only thing that probably disappointed me tonight."
Carolina's best scoring chance came with 5:11 to play, but rookie Shane Willis shot over the net on a breakaway.
"He shot it right over the net. I had my glove out, but he just shot it high," Brodeur said. "They finally had pretty good chances. They finally had some power plays. But we didn't allow too many cross-ice plays."
In the final minute, Devils captain Scott Stevens put his stamp on the series by sending Willis sprawling with a patented open-ice hit at the Devils' blue line. Willis' stick went flying, his face was bloodied and he had to be helped off the ice.
"It's pretty simple. The guy's kind of crossing the middle with his head down. And he had the puck and I came across and hit him with my chest," Stevens said. "And when he went down, I guess he hit his head on the ice."
While Maurice agreed it was a clean hit, Hurricanes right wing Rob DiMaio did not.
"Ten seconds to go in the game, I don't think it's called for that he has to hit a guy that hard on open ice. Literally tried to end the guy's career is what it seems like," DiMaio said. "I shouldn't say that, it's not fair. He's a feared hitter. That's what makes him effective."
Last year, Stevens had a series of punishing open-ice hits, including one in Eric Lindros' last NHL game, en route to winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player of the postseason.
"Scotty did what Scotty does," said Devils defenseman Sean O'Donnell. "He came across the middle with a clean hit."
Asked if he thought his hit would have a carryover effect in Game Three, Stevens said, "I hope so because it's always fun to play a physical game. And that's what hockey is about, that's what playoff hockey should be. It should be a physical, hard-fought game and fun to play."
Alexander Mogilny scored the only goal Brodeur needed 4:16 into the opening period and O'Donnell added an insurance tally early in the second.
Arturs Irbe bounced back from a shaky effort in Thursday's opener and made 27 saves for Carolina, which hosts Game Three on Tuesday night.
"We can't play with that fear that they're the Stanley Cup champions. We have to just come out and play our game and play as hard as we can," DiMaio said. "We're in the league, just like they are."
Mogilny got things started with his 20th career playoff goal. Sergei Brylin circled behind the net and centered to the low slot, where Mogilny did not get all of his shot. But the puck dribbled past Irbe.
"Gomer (Scott Gomez) made a nice little play trying to go around the guy and Sergei picked up the puck in the corner and came around and fed me," said Mogilny, who led the Devils during the season with 43 goals. "It's nice to score right off the bat. It gives your team a little confidence, takes a little steam off them. It's very important to get the lead."
New Jersey outshot Carolina, 12-3, giving it a 48-21 edge through the first four periods of the series.
O'Donnell got his third career playoff goal at 2:32 of the second. Randy McKay faked a shot from the left faceoff circle, freezing Irbe, before sending a cross-ice pass to O'Donnell. He put a one-timer from the top of the right circle past a diving Irbe.
"It was just a little bonus, but it's certainly not something I hope the fans expect or look for," O'Donnell said. "I was just happy to be in the right place at the right time."