While the Carolina Hurricanes have already been eliminated for a sixth straight season, the New Jersey Devils are desperately clinging to minuscule hopes of avoiding a third straight absence from the playoffs.
Standing 11 points back with eight games remaining, the Devils will try to avert their fourth straight defeat Saturday night while adding to their road success against the Hurricanes.
Since reaching the postseason in 19 of 20 seasons – including three Stanley Cup titles – New Jersey has struggled to qualify and will need a miracle to avoid missing out on the playoffs for the fourth time in five years.
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A recent 10-3-2 stretch was too little, too late, and the Devils have since dropped three in a row. Their 3-2 overtime loss at Washington on Thursday inched the Eastern Conference’s 12th-place club closer to elimination.
Travis Zajac scored for the first time in 11 games Thursday, while Steve Bernier added his third goal over his last two on the road. New Jersey (31-31-12) has totaled three goals with only three power-play chances during its skid.
The Devils have reason to feel good about their future because of a much-improved defense and Cory Schneider. He has a league-high 1,720 saves and ranks among the league leaders with a 1.84 goals-against average since Dec. 17.
"I’ve never played without a great goaltender and we have one of the best guys in the world right now," said veteran center Scott Gomez, who has a goal and an assist over his last two games. "You can build off that."
Schneider is also 4-1-1 with a 1.65 GAA in six career starts against the Hurricanes. After stopping 39 shots in a 2-1 road win Dec. 8, he had 32 saves in a 2-1 overtime home loss Dec. 23 and gave up a goal in relief during a 3-1 road loss Feb. 21.
The Devils have won the past four meetings at PNC Arena by a combined 14-5 score.
Cam Ward will get the start in net for the Hurricanes (27-36-10) after finishing with 27 saves in his return from illness in Thursday’s 5-2 home win over Pittsburgh. He’s been a bright spot by going 8-3-1 with a 2.47 GAA over his last 12 starts.
Ward, though, is 4-10-1 with a 2.86 GAA in his past 15 games against the Devils.
The Hurricanes’ victory over the Penguins snapped a four-game losing streak overall and a season-high six-game skid at home. They haven’t won two in a row at PNC Arena since a three-game run Feb. 20-27.
"We’re going to continue to work and compete, and (coach Bill Peters is) not going to have it any other way, which is good," captain Eric Staal, who has a team-high 20 goals, told the team’s official website. "That’s the way it should be."
Staal had a goal and two assists Thursday, but has scored only four times in 42 career games against the Devils. Jeff Skinner had the club’s lone tally in last month’s loss, giving him six in his last nine matchups.
New Jersey’s Adam Henrique has two goals in the season series and six over his past seven meetings.