RALEIGH, N.C. – It’s the closest the Carolina Hurricanes will get to simulate playing in a playoff series during the regular season.
The Hurricanes will play one of their Metropolitan division rivals, the New Jersey Devils, for the second time in three days, an away-and-home series that will conclude at PNC Arena on Friday.
It presents a quick glimpse at what this Carolina team is capable of doing in this type of situation after 25 games.
“Not a lot of X’s and O’s to go over off ice,” Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said after the morning skate.
“We just played them – not much is goin’ to change. We talked about how it’s gonna’ be six periods in a row and the same team. It’s gonna’ be about consistency. We were fortunate to win there, but it’s gonna’ be a hard game and we gotta’ be ready to compete and play hard with them.”
Looking back at what his team did against the Devils to score four goals in a game for the second straight game and come up with a win, Muller stated, ”I thought we moved the puck well.”
“We stretched them out. They’re a really good team that plays with five guys as a group and they can really isolate you in your zone and the neutral zone. They had given up the least amount of shots in the league at home, so we knew that we had to really skate and put pucks in the right areas in order to spread them out and get scoring opportunities. I thought our puck placement was really good – we were first on pucks and gave us an opportunity to play some time in the offensive zone.”
From the Devils’ dressing room, the perspective of what happened during the 4-3 loss to Carolina on Wednesday was about a defensive lapse that they’re planning to avoid.
“They played better than I thought they were gonna’ be,” New Jersey forward Jaromir Jagr said.
“They were quick. They were strong on the puck. We have to make sure we play better defense. We gave them so many odd-man rushes. They didn’t score many goals on it, but we gave them a lot of them.”
The 41-year old forward whose third-period goal against the Hurricanes put him past Mario Lemieux and into ninth place on the NHL all-time goal-scoring list, pointed out how important staying close in games was to winning and earning valuable points in division play.
“They didn’t have to do anything. They were up 4-1, so one team pressing and the other playing good defense. They did whatever what they had to do.”
“The division is so open,” Jagr continued.
“You win two, three games and you’re number two. You lose two, three games and you’re out of the playoffs. I think it’s gonna’ come like that to those last games – it’s gonna’ be very tight. A new schedule for the playoffs, you can control more. Those games in your division mean a lot more than they used to. First three teams from each division are going to the playoffs, so rivalries in the division mean more than before.”
Devils’ goalie Martin Brodeur pointed out the importance of taking back the points the Hurricanes earned against him.
“It is a big back-to-back,” Brodeur said.
“We wanted it to go the other way for us, but now we’re just trying to even out things and move on with kind-of-a clean slate. Definitely, they’re in a good position here to make a big step on us. Makin’ the playoffs is gonna’ be hard. These teams, when you’re able to grab four points in a few days and just move on, it helps a lot.”
For New Jersey forward Adam Henrique, a big glove save from Cam Ward denied him a chance to score and bring the last game to within a goal.
“Huge save,” Henrique said of Ward’s stop.
“It is what it is. You’ve gotta’ put that behind you and move forward. We were pushin’ them and trying to find something. We were lucky that we got the score that Jagr got, but it was a big save.”
As Jagr and Brodeur noted before him, even though the rematch with the Hurricanes is a regular season game, it has a lot of meaning to both teams.
“It’s nice to be able to play the same team back-to-back,” Henrique said.
“We’ve got a chance to get those points back. We’re right there in the standings with each other, we knew these were two huge games and we gotta’ treat them like playoffs obviously. It’s nice to try and redeem ourselves tonight and get those points back.”
Why is this rematch series significant?
Aside from being pregame banter and hype, it may be a great precursor to an actual playoff series that could take place between these two teams at season’s end.