NEWARK, N.J. — After two dominant performances at home, the Hurricanes take their 2-0 series lead on the road in New Jersey for Sunday’s Game 3 matinee against the Devils.
1. Prudential Center hasn’t been kind to the Hurricanes since its opening in 2007.
The Hurricanes are 8-17-0 in the regular season when visiting the building, scoring just 58 goals (2.15 goals per game). Carolina hasn’t won in regulation in Newark since March 25, 2017, going 2-6-0 in the last eight visits. The Hurricanes won in a shootout on New Year’s Day, pelting Devils goalie Mackenzie Blackwood with 47 shots in a 5-4 win. In their other visit to Prudential this season, Vitek Vanecek posted a 32-save shutout in a 3-0 Devils win on March 12.
The playoffs have seen better results with Carolina splitting four games with the Devils during the 2009 first round, though the scoring woes remain (7 goals, 1.75 per game) Of course, Game 7 was “The Shock at The Rock,” when Jussi Jokinen and Eric Staal both scored in the final 80 seconds to lift the sixth-seeded Hurricanes past No. 3 seed New Jersey to a 4-3 win and into the second round.
That was the last time the Hurricanes played a playoff game at Prudential — Paul Maurice was the coach, Ron Francis was an assistant, and both current coaches Rod Brind’Amour and Tim Gleason were on the ice.
“That’s a good memory there,” Brind’Amour said before Game 3. “That was just an amazing comeback. “I just remember how it just kind of felt like it was over, and then it was over, you know, quickly the other way. So that’s hockey. That’s why you gotta stay alert. You just never know.”
2. One player to watch: Derek Stepan.
The veteran forward had a combined seven shots in the first two games of the series, and his four shots in Game 2 were the most he’s had since he totaled that many in Buffalo on Feb. 1, when he scored his most recent goal.
Stepan, who spent the first seven seasons of his career with the Rangers, has more regular season goals against the Devils (15) than any other opponent, and he has totaled 31 points in 44 career games against New Jersey.
Before the series, I asked Stepan if he still had a dislike for the Devils from his Rangers days.
“We had some good battles, for sure,” he said. “I don’t know, you’d have to ask them, I guess. I obviously loved the rivalry that we had in New York. We had an Eastern Conference final, the building was crazy. So it was obviously a good rivalry, and I loved playing in those games in the Metro like that. But I’m not so sure there’s a pent-up anger after almost six years now.”
3. Sunday is the birthday of Stepan’s linemate, Jesse Puljujarvi. The 25-year-old forward is still looking for his first goal since joining the Hurricanes — he had two assists in 17 regular season games and has one assist in six games in the playoffs.
It’s not that Puljujarvi hasn’t had his chances. According to NaturalStatTrick.com, Puljujarvi has five high-danger scoring chances in all situations in the postseason, tied for the eighth most on the team. He had 12 such chances 207 minutes after the trade from Edmonton.
“We try to get those chances and if it’s going in or not, we try to play good hockey,” Puljujarvi said before Sunday’s game. “I’m feeling good. There’s no frustration or anything. I’m just enjoying to play still in May.”
With Carolina’s forward corps depleted by injuries, Puljujarvi has served as the net-front presence on the second power play unit. Maybe the 2016 fourth overall pick will give himself a present on Sunday.
4. Frederik Andersen has allowed just one goal in each of the last three games, looking more and more like the goalie who finished fourth in Vezina Trophy voting last season.
This kind of run isn’t unprecedented for Andersen. In his first month with the Hurricanes last season, Andersen had five consecutive starts allowing one or fewer goals, picking up wins in Montreal and Columbus before returning home to beat Toronto, Boston and Arizona. The win against the Bruins was a 33-save shutout.
While Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl and Florida’s Matthew Tkachuk are undoubtedly the early frontrunners for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, no goalie has been better than Andersen.
The key, as always, for Andersen is handling the workload and staying healthy.
“No concern there,” Brind’Amour said. “That is something that we guarded against in the regular season. … This time of year, you’ve gotta throw your best guys out there.”
Antti Raanta did not dress for the game again due to illness, leaving rookie Pyotr Kochetkov to back up Andersen.
5. Matchups will change in Game 3, and New Jersey coach Lindy Ruff will surely try to get star center Jack Hughes away from Jordan Staal with the final change.
But Brind’Amour made a sly move heading into the series, sliding Jesperi Kotkaniemi between his two best checking wingers, Jordan Martinook and Jesper Fast, while slotting Staal in the middle of Martin Necas and Jack Drury.
“I made the change just to get a little more spunk — I don’t really want to say more balance because I think we were already balanced, but just a little different look throughout our whole lines,” Brind’Amour said. “It will help out KK too because they weren’t doing too much together, so that was really it.”
Kotkamiemi scored twice and Necas, who had just one goal and two assists in his first seven playoff games, scored in Game 2 and had four shots on goal — the most he’s had this postseason.
“We played against their top line both games,” Necas said of flanking Staal. “Jordo’s really good defensively, and when you play him in practice it’s hard to play against. You can see it on the ice, guys struggling against him. It’s a simple game — try to get on the forecheck and it’s as simple as that.”
The Hurricanes know a win in Game 3 will put them in a commanding position.
“Any team can come back in this league, everyone’s really good,” Hurricanes forward Seth Jarvis said before Game 3. “So especially these guys doing it last series.
“But we were in the same position last series too, so we know what we need to do to kind of close it out and step on their throat. So that’s what we’re going to try to do tonight and hopefully get a win.”
Devils rookie defenseman Luke Hughes, the fourth overall pick in the 2021 draft, will make his playoff debut. He played two regular season games with New Jersey after his season with the University of Michigan ended in the Frozen Four and he signed his pro contract.
“He’s a pretty dynamic player,” Brind’Amour said. “Another guy — there’s a lot of talent here on this team; they just keep putting them in. Big guy, can skate for sure, and we’re gonna have to watch him as well.”