Category 5: Round 2 begins with Game 1 of Hurricanes-Devils

Each team won twice during the head-to-head series

Hurricanes center Jordan Staal skates after taking the puck from Devils center Nico Hischier during a Dec. 20 game. (Karl B. DeBlaker / AP Photo)

RALEIGH — The second round series between the Hurricanes and Devils started Wednesday night with Game 1 at PNC Arena.

Carolina advanced by beating the Islanders in the first round, ending that series with an overtime goal by Paul Stastny in Game 6 on Friday. New Jersey moved on by beating the Rangers in a winner-take-all Game 7 on Monday, winning a playoff series for the first time since 2012.


1. There are still two big questions entering Wednesday’s Game 1 between the Hurricanes and Devils at PNC Arena: Who will start in goal for Carolina? Will New Jersey forward Timo Meier play?

We won’t know at least until warmups.

“Maybe,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour answered when asked Tuesday if Frederik Andersen would be his Game 1 starter. “I don’t know why I’m having fun with this. It just seems like that’s all everybody talks about is the goalie, and it’s like the least amount of time that we spend worrying about who’s going in the net because we’re got two good ones.

“I liked how it worked out last time where I don’t have to answer the question. So I’ll wait. … You’ll know at 6:30 tomorrow night.”

The Devils, meanwhile, could be without their big deadline acquisition after Meier was crushed by Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba in their Game 7 and did not return to the ice.

“Timo will be a game-time decision. … It’ll really depend on how he feels,” New Jersey coach Lindy Ruff said Wednesday. Meier did participate in the morning and was wearing a full shield.

2. Speaking of Ruff, he should be familiar to longtime Hurricanes fans. The Devils coach was leading the Buffalo bench when Carolina faced the Sabres in the 2006 Eastern Conference finals.

That series ended, of course, with the Hurricanes winning in Game 7. Carolina went on to beat the Oilers and win its only Stanley Cup.

Ruff’s other deep run behind the bench also came with Buffalo when he led the Sabres to the Stanley Cup finals in his second year as a head coach, losing to Dallas on the infamous Brett Hull skate-in-the-crease goal in triple-overtime of Game 6 in 1999.

The Devils’ Round 1 win over the Rangers gave Ruff a series win in each of the last four decades.

“It just tells you I’m really fricken’ old,” Ruff said with a smile on Wednesday when asked about the accomplishment. “You know what, I’ve been fortunate — I’ll use the word lucky — to still be doing what I love. I just love doing it.”

He’s also hung around long enough to see Brind’Amour go from captain of that Hurricanes team that beat the Sabres in ’06 to one of hockey’s most successful coaches.

“He’s a great coach and he’s a great player. So I don’t know if there’s a lot of difference,” Ruff said when I asked if he saw any change in the Carolina coach from his playing days. “He’s done a great job with that club. The game that they want to play, they play it night in, night out. They know what their identity is, they know how they want to play, and Rod the player was, I think, one hell of an example for any guy that played with him.”

3. The Devils may have struggled to score against the Rangers — 17 goals in seven games — but they were tied for fourth in the league in the regular season. That’s a stark contrast from Carolina’s Round 1 opponent: The Islanders were 22nd in scoring in the regular season, averaging 2.95 goals per night. That’s more than half a goal less than New Jersey (3.52).

The Hurricanes don’t think they’ll need to adjust their game plan to have success against the Devils.

“Nothing really changes the way we want to play,” Carolina defenseman Brady Skjei said Wednesday. “I think you’ve got to be aware of who you’re on the ice with, especially with these guys. They’ve got some top-end guys who have elite skill and play that run-and-gun style hockey.

“We’re not going to change anything the way we play. We want to play hard, play fast, play physical. But I think just being aware of who you’re out there with is definitely key.”

Where New Jersey really thrives is on the rush, which means the Hurricanes will need to remain aggressive at keeping pucks in at the Devils’ blue line without allowing odd-man chances the other way.

“I think they might be the best rush team in the NHL,” Brind’Amour said. “Just look at their personnel — a lot of talent. So yeah, we’ve got to be cognizant of the fact that you make a little turnover and they’re behind you and whatnot, but we certainly can’t dwell on what they’re doing. I’ve said that all year. … If we’re not playing our game, we won’t have a chance. So we’ve got to worry about how we’ve got to play.”

4. A matchup to watch will be Jordan Staal checking Jack Hughes.

“(He’s) a player that can change the game in an instant,” Staal said of Hughes. “He’s got great speed and does everything at a high speed. Against those players, it’s always his time and space and getting in their face as quickly as you can and not giving them any room. So that’s gonna be our goal against good players like that.”

In Games 1 and 2, Carolina will get the matchups it wants — and Hughes can expect to see plenty of Staal.

“They have home ice and he’s a big part of their team,” Hughes said. “I know he’s matched up against top lines and top players, but we’ve just got to play our game. We’ve got four good lines, and we’ll try to play with our four lines and play that way.”

Ruff acknowledged that it will be a challenge for Hughes.

“Staal is one of the best at doing what he does,” the Devils coach said. “He’s a big man, he’s great on faceoffs. He’s one of the best defenders … and (Hughes is) gonna have to play through it, and he’s gonna have to get help from other players.”

Devils forward Erik Haula, who has played both with and against Staal, offered praise to his former teammate.

“They always ask that question, ‘Who’s the hardest player to play against in the NHL?’ and I think he’s up there in that conversation. I think that speaks for itself. You know, he’s a horse. I would say just playing with him and watching him, he does it all and is extremely hard to play against.”

5. Haula, who is playing Carolina in the playoffs for the third straight year after suiting up for the Hurricanes in 2019-20, has become Public Enemy No. 1 at PNC Arena.

“I guess I gotta ask you why that is,” Haula said when asked about the cold reception he’s received in Raleigh since leaving. “I played here, I gave them everything I had. It didn’t end up working out. There’s a lot of things that happened family-wise off the ice, the injury that I was coming off of.

“Not really sure about that. I’m a competitor. I’m gonna do whatever is necessary in my mind to win. I’m not — I don’t see myself as a villain. I just, you know, I play for my team. I give it everything I’ve got. And like I said, I’m just here to compete and be the best version of myself.”

Haula’s definitely leaned into being an agitator since leaving Carolina. He targeted Martin Necas in the 2021 playoffs when he was with Nashville, and then he tried to get under the skin of Seth Jarvis in last year’s series with the Bruins.

He’s even managed to aggravate his fellow Finns.

We’ll see if it continues in this series.