No. 6 Carolina Hurricanes vs. No. 3 New Jersey Devils
Season Series: Hurricanes won, 3-1
The Devils have all of the pieces in place to make a run deep into the playoffs. Both their offense and defense has been great all season, but it’s the man in the crease that’s going to be the key for them.
Martin Brodeur’s return set the team on fire at first, but after the excitement of his record-chasing run wore off, the team fell flat on their backs.
Brodeur, despite being well-rested, has not been playing well since he took the all-time wins record, and the team has not been doing too well either. He is undoubtedly the most important player for the Devils, as the team’s fortunes always tend to echo his.
They’re hardly a one man show, though. Zach Parise has emerged as the first A-list skater that the Devils have had since Scott Stevens retired. Captain Jamie Langenbrunner has had a career season, and Patrik Elias has played just as well as he always has.
Their defense isn’t what it was during the days of Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, and Ken Dayneko, but it is hardly sub-par.
The Hurricanes’ story this season has been quite similar to that of the Devils. Their chances of making the playoffs was in question all year long until Cam Ward caught fire down the stretch, and since then they have been a force to be reckoned with.
Ward also has a bit of a history when it comes to playoff success—the last time the Hurricanes made the playoffs they won the Stanley Cup thanks to his incredible performance that earned him the Conn Smythe trophy.
Ward is backed by a strong Hurricanes’ blue line that is lead by Joni Pitkanen, Joe Corvo, and Anton Babchuck. The ‘Canes aren’t all that strong up front, with Ray Whitney, Eric Staal, and Tuomo Ruutu leading the team in scoring (in that order).
A few weeks ago, I would have picked the Devils to win this one, without any doubts. However, the recent play of Martin Brodeur has shown that the injury that kept him out for most of the year wasn’t really a “hidden blessing.”
Brodeur may have more energy going into the playoffs than he has in previous years, but he doesn’t really seem all that comfortable in the net after watching from the press box as his replacement, Scott Clemmensen, elevated the Devils in the standings.
Meanwhile, Cam Ward has had plenty of time to figure things out, and he’s used that time well, finally returning to the form that allowed him to win the Conn Smythe in the 2006 playoffs.
However, despite the recent success for Carolina and struggles for New Jersey, it’s important to note that the Devils have clearly been the stronger team this season. That being said, expect the Devils to get back on their feet very early on.
These two teams met in the conference semi-finals in 2006, with the ‘Canes winning in five games en route to winning Stanley Cup. Unlike that series, this will be a spectacular series between two very even teams, and it will be probably be too close to call until it’s all said and done.
This series will be back-and-forth all the way, and expect it to last at least six games.
This one will likely take seven to decide. The last time both these teams were in game sevens (the Devils in 2003 and the Hurricanes in 2006), they were in the Stanley Cup Finals, and they both won.
This time, I see the Devils taking it at home, because I’m still a believer in Martin Brodeur, despite his struggles of late. He won’t be incredible, but, fueled by a sellout crown at the Rock, he’ll be good enough to keep the Hurricanes at bay (no pun intended) and give the Devils the win in the series.
Devils in seven.
Check out Ben Livingston's other playoff previews, which can be accessed in the module to the right of this article. More will be posted on Bleacher Report in the days to come.
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