Devils poised for stern test from Hurricanes

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Carolina at New Jersey, Eastern Conference quarterfinal, Game One, 7:30 p.m. EDT

NEWARK, New Jersey (AP) -- The Carolina Hurricanes finished the

regular season as one of the NHL's hottest teams, so there seems

little doubt what to expect from them in the opening round of

the playoffs.

The New Jersey Devils are a different story, despite winning

four of the final five games.

Whether the players want to admit it, Brent Sutter's team is

bringing some baggage into Game 1 of the best-of-7 series that

gets under way at the Prudential Center on Wednesday night.

Before their late run, the Devils lost six straight. The shuffle

in the standings last weekend also didn't work to their benefit.

The Canes, who fell from No. 5 to No. 6 in the seedings, beat

New Jersey three times in four games, with the only loss coming

last weekend when Carolina rested goaltender Cam Ward.

There's one other issue the Devils need to overcome. It's the

memories of a year ago. New Jersey also had a late-season swoon

and was eliminated by the Rangers in five games in the opening

round, losing all three games at home.

"The way it went last year, without winning a single playoff

game here, we have to do something right away," said Zach

Parise, whose 45 goals led New Jersey this season.

After practicing for about an hour, Sutter insisted the playoff

problems from a year ago ended last year.

"Last year we weren't playing very well and at the level we

needed to be," Sutter said. "Maybe that's why I harped on them

the past month. I think the last week or 10 days we started

finding our way again. I think everyone knows how things have to

be done. This year is a different makeup and a different

mind-set."

It's also a different opponent.

No matter how many points separate them, a Devils-Rangers series

is always up for grabs because of the emotional rivalry. Even

home games tend not to be home games.

"You work hard to get the home-ice advantage and you have to

take advantage," goaltender Martin Brodeur said. "Last year was

tough. For some reason we just didn't feel at home in the

playoffs. Tomorrow we will feel at home for the first time in

the playoffs. That's going to feel good. Last year was not a fun

experience, we didn't play well and the fans had a hard time

cheering. This will be different."

Carolina went 13-3-2 in its last 18 games, matching a franchise

record with nine straight wins. Ward posted a 19-7-2 record in

his last 28 starts with a 2.30 goals against average, a .922

save percentage and three shutouts. Eric Staal is one of the

league's top offensive threats with 40 goals, including 14 on

the power play.

Carolina also has had success in the postseason against Brodeur,

who last month set the NHL record for career regular-season wins

by a goaltender. The Hurricanes are 10-7 against him. They lost

a series to him in 2001, but bounced back for victories in 2002

and 2006, the year they won the Stanley Cup.

"He's obviously a tough challenge, and he's just like everybody

else, looking to bring their game to another level in the

playoffs," Ward said. "So it's important that we make life

difficult for him out there. For a goaltender, it's tough to

stop the puck when you can't see it, and we've got to make sure

we have guys around him."

Carolina's big offensive weapon against New Jersey was the power

play. It scored on 7 of 16 attempts, getting four goals from

defenseman Anton Babchuk.

Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice expects the Devils to be what they

always are -- a very defensive, responsible, tough-minded team

that will roll four lines.

"They're going to spend all their time to play more and more

like the Devils and not make a tremendous amount of adjustments

in their game," Maurice said. "Frankly, we probably won't,

either. You're 82 games into the way you want to play, and all

it's going to be is about getting your game out of your team.

And I think, in a lot of ways, these teams are evenly matched in

a lot of areas, so it's going to be performance and execution."

New Jersey lacked that last season in the playoffs.

"We feel good about this year," said center Brian Rolston, a

veteran who was signed by general manager Lou Lamoriello after

the playoff debacle. "We have a lot of experience and we know

what time of year it is. We have to be ready, and we are."

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