The Carolia Hurricanes have been a popular upset pick in the first round of this year's Eastern Conference playoffs. They were rather hot toward the end of the season, while their opponents, my beloved New Jersey Devils, were fresh off a late-March swoon.
But as an optimistic Devils fan, I remain convinced that there will be no upset in this particular series, and the Devils shall indeed prevail as planned.
The series is currently tied at one game apiece, and while that may appear to be dead-even, it does give an edge to the Canes, who have now obtained home-ice advantage (three games in Carolina await, while there are just two more in Jersey). Still, I contend the Devils will win, and here is why:
They are, quite simply, the better team.
The Devils have been consistently awesome all season. They suffered serious injuries early on, and endured most of the season without Martin Brodeur. Yet they won the division without tremendous difficulty, and flirted with the number-one seed in the East for most of the year. They did get cold at the wrong time, but let's not forget 90 percent of the season.
The fact is, they entered the playoffs at a relatively even pace. They outlasted the slump, and finished the season by winning their final two games—the last one against these very Hurricanes. They may have been cold recently, but they didn't enter the playoffs on a losing streak, and that's important. They aren't sitting around waiting to be stomped upon. They may not be in an ideal position, but it's far from bad.
While the Canes have been hot, they did end the season with the aforementioned loss to the Devils, so it's not like the entered the postseason on a blazing streak. Sure enough, the Devils utterly out-played them in the first game.
It was not a blowout of epic proportions, but the Devils controlled the game from start to finish, and showed that they are truly better. The hot steak is a thing of the past, and we should forget about it.
Without any "temperature" to speak of, the series becomes a battle of two teams, and the better one shall prevail. That's the Devils, and you can't argue that. There's a reason they're the third seed while the Hurricanes are sixth.
And let's not ignore the facet that had Devils fans salivating for a while: a rested Martin Brodeur. Many pointed to a fatigued Brodeur after recent playoff failures, but after sitting out most of this season, Brodeur is in top form. He's been very good in both games so far, and cannot be blamed for the unfortunate bounces that gave Carolina game two.
The Devils may not have had great history in Carolina, but they will fare well there. They played much better than the Canes in game one, and game two could have gone either way.
They look absolutely fine, and a team this good won't lose many games, even on the road. Bad bounces won't be frequent, so I don't expect Carolina to win more games like last night's. They'll need to step up their game, and the Devils won't let them do that.
If anyone points out recent playoff history between these teams (i.e. 2002 and 2006), I give you permission to laugh at them. The teams are both entirely different—Kevin Weekes is on our side now! But in all seriousness, you can't look at two short series as evidence of anything, especially when they occurred three and seven years ago. Different teams, people. It's worth ignoring.
I know Jamie Langenbrunner is hurt, and that will be problematic. But the Devils have overcome injuries, and I think they'll be alright. I'll tack one game onto my wins prediction for the Canes, and call this a six-game series instead of five.
(Oh, and if I needed any more support, Barry Melrose gave it to me: he picked the Hurricanes.)
Devils in 6.