A season-long six-game road trip for the Carolina Hurricanes began as if it might end up sinking their playoff hopes. But the Hurricanes can close out the jaunt Thursday by further solidifying their standing in the Eastern Conference wild-card race when they visit the New Jersey Devils in Newark, N.J.
Both teams were off Wednesday after playing Tuesday, when the Hurricanes beat the Detroit Red Wings 5-2, and the Devils fell to the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins 5-2.
The win for the Hurricanes (38-25-5, 81 points) was their third in a row and vaulted them into a tie for the Eastern Conference wild-card spots with the Columbus Blue Jackets. The two teams are one point ahead of the New York Islanders, who fell out of the East’s final playoff spot with a 5-4 shootout loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday night.
The Hurricanes started their streak with wins over a pair of contenders by beating the Islanders 3-2 in overtime on Saturday and with a 6-2 victory over the Penguins on Sunday.
The Red Wings, who clinched the worst record in the NHL with Tuesday’s loss, and Devils (28-29-12, 68 points), who are likely to finish last in the Metropolitan Division for the second straight season while missing the playoffs for the seventh time in eight years, present a far different challenge for Carolina, which was pleased with how it responded Tuesday night.
“That was a game where you look at the standings and you expect to win, but you still have to respect the game,” Hurricanes right winger Justin Williams said Tuesday night. “We still had to go out there and work against a scrappy team that’s fighting against you.”
While their playoff hopes are all but extinct, the Devils will get another chance at playing spoiler Thursday night. Sixteen of New Jersey’s final 17 games are scheduled against teams that entered Wednesday in the playoff race.
The Devils are 2-2 in their first four games in that stretch, with three-goal losses to the Penguins and Vegas Golden Knights (3-0 on Mar. 3) book-ending multi-goal wins over the St. Louis Blues (4-2) and New York Rangers (6-4) last Friday and Saturday.
“We know the situation they were in,” interim Devils head coach Alain Nasreddine said Tuesday night. “They’re up there in the standings for a good reason. Their big players show up in big games. When it’s not Sidney Crosby, it’s (Evgeni) Malkin. When it is not Malkin, it’s (Kris) Letang. When it’s not Letang, it’s (goalie Tristan) Jarry or (goalie Matt) Murray.”
The game Thursday will be the third of four scheduled meetings this season between the Metropolitan Division rivals. The Devils earned a 5-3 win at Carolina on Nov. 2 and fell to the host Hurricanes, 5-2, on Feb. 14. The teams are scheduled to play in New Jersey again on Mar. 29.
–Field Level Media