Devils host Hurricanes in regular-season finale

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By Dan Pieringer

Stats Writer

Carolina (45-29-7) at New Jersey (50-27-4), 1:00 p.m. EDT

NEWARK, New Jersey (AP) -- The New Jersey Devils have locked up

the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs by setting a

franchise record for wins in a season.

Thanks to a franchise record of their own, the Carolina

Hurricanes are still battling so they don't have to face the

Devils in the first round.

After having their team record-tying nine-game winning streak

snapped in their last game, the Hurricanes look to bounce back

and help their postseason standing Saturday afternoon when they

try to sweep their season series against the Devils in each

team's regular-season finale.

New Jersey (50-27-4) clinched its eighth Atlantic Division title

in 12 years and a third-place finish in the East with a 3-2

shootout win at Ottawa on Thursday night. It was the 50th

victory for the Devils, breaking the franchise mark of 49, set

in 2006-07.

After going 0-5-1 over its previous six, New Jersey has won

three of four.

"We're on our way," said winger Zach Parise, who scored one of

the Devils' two shootout goals. "We did a pretty good job of

eliminating opportunities, and we've got to start burying some

of our chances, too, but we're getting there. We knew it wasn't

going to be overnight but we've got one more game before the

playoffs and we're slowly getting there."

The Devils' last regular-season game could be a preview of their

first-round playoff series. The Hurricanes (45-29-7) won nine

straight from March 18-April 7 to secure a postseason berth for

the first time since they won the Stanley Cup following the

2005-06 season. They're tied with Philadelphia and Pittsburgh

with 97 points and could finish anywhere from fourth to sixth.

The Hurricanes and Penguins play their regular-season finales

Saturday, while the Flyers have two games remaining.

In such a tight race, the Hurricanes know they missed an

opportunity in their last game. They had their winning streak -

and a club-record 12-game run at home - snapped with a 5-1 loss

to Buffalo on Thursday night. They trailed 5-0 before Eric

Staal's 40th goal with 27.1 seconds remaining helped them avoid

their second shutout loss of the season.

"We got back to playing the way we don't want to play, and

that's slow, kind of losing some of those little battles that

we've been winning in the last month," winger Ray Whitney said.

"But we're not going to go right to the gutter after this, by

any means. ... We realize that if we don't bring it every night,

we're not that good."

Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said he wasn't worried about his

team dwelling on that defeat Saturday.

"In order to stew over something, you have to leave it in the

pot for a long period of time," Maurice said. "This one will be

out in the garbage and not talked about again."

Maurice's club has won its first three meetings with New Jersey,

including a 2-1 road victory the last time the teams met March

28. The Carolina franchise is in position to sweep the Devils

for the first time since winning all three meetings during the

1984-85 season, when it was based in Hartford.

Hurricanes wingers Tuomo Ruutu and Sergei Samsonov have been the

offensive catalysts so far in the series. Ruutu has two goals

and two assists, and Samsonov has three goals and one assist.

Carolina's Cam Ward is 3-0-0 with a 1.67 goals-against average

against New Jersey.

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