What a difference a playoff race can make. Back in November when the Devils last visited the Hurricanes, the PNC Arena was nearly empty with probably more ushers than fans. Fast forward to tonight, a few months of the Canes chasing a playoff spot and that playoff berth on the line tonight and you had yourself a recipe for a large and hot crowd. (Also add in some fun in the form of the Storm Surge.) The Devils lost to the Hurricanes 3-1 tonight and Carolina (along with a 2-1 Montreal loss in Washington) clinched a spot in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. It is the first time Carolina has been in the playoffs since 2009, ten years.
Starting on the injury front, according to MSG’s Erika Wachter, Taylor Hall has not been ruled out of Saturday’s game (he did not play tonight), but c’mon, let’s be realistic here. He probably will not play. Neither will Kyle Palmieri or Sami Vatanen, likely play either on Saturday, as both were out tonight too. Kurtis Gabriel also remained out tonight. Brett Seney was recalled from AHL Binghamton but neither him nor Egor Yakovlev saw action tonight.
The Devils got a glimpse of their future when newly-signed Jeremy Davies practiced with the team. He cannot play tonight or Saturday, as his entry-level deal does not kick in until the 2019-20 season, but he was on the ice and around the team getting some seasoning for when he does make the jump to the NHL officially.
In goal, the Devils were back to Cory Schneider and he played very well tonight, getting the Devils out of some jams. He made 22 saves on 25 shots against for an .880 save percentage on the night. For Carolina, Petr Mrazek made 36 saves on 37 shots for a .973 save percentage. Mrazek would go on to be named the game’s first star later in the night.
Special teams saw the Devils go 0-for-3 on the power play with four shots and one shorthanded shot. The Canes were 1-for-2 on the PP with three shots.
The Hurricanes’ quest to reenter the playoffs did not get off to a good start. Andy Greene took a feed from Michael McLeod while trailing the play and shot through traffic. He beat Mrazek cleanly to make it 1-0 Devils 4:56 into the game. Pavel Zacha, playing in his 200th NHL game, had the secondary assist.
The Canes would tie it before the first period was out, though. Warren Foegele took a stretch pass from Dougie Hamilton through the Devils’ defense and had a partial breakaway. He shot on Cory and beat him five-hole at the 10:03 mark of the first. That made things all level at one apiece.
The Devils, although ending up outshooting Carolina 37-25, did not get their first shot of the second period until about the 12 minute mark of the frame. That was about the only down period for the Devils as they played well the rest of the night.
The game winner came on the power play for the Hurricanes at 1:36 into the second. The Devils actually started the second killing off a 5-on-3 for about 20 seconds. Kenny Agostino had gone off for high-sticking at 18:20 of the first and then, at the 20 minute mark of the first period, Greene was called for tripping Justin Williams. It was that penalty that led to a Justin Faulk goal. The Canes made a nice play to keep the puck in the Devils’ zone and Faulk blasted a shot upstairs by Cory to make it 2-1 Carolina. Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen had the assists.
That was the only goal that Carolina would need, but they did get one more insurance goal. It came off of a Nino Niederreiter partial breakaway at 16:35 of the third period. Brett Pesce made a nice outlet pass to spring Niederreiter and he broke in, chipping the puck by Cory to make it 3-1 Hurricanes.
And with that, the party was on in Raleigh. The Canes had qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2009 and the fans were loud to say the least.
In the end, faceoffs were split 50/50 in the game, both teams had 30 hits each and each had seven giveaways. The Devils led in blocked shots 17-8.
Individual stats saw Damon Severson lead in ice time with 25:04 (including 4:15 on the power play and 1:40 shorthanded). Kenny Agostino led the forwards with 21:36 (including 2:19 on the PP and 1:16 on the PK). Shots were led by Blake Coleman with five, hits by Steven Santini with five, blocks by Connor Carrick, Greene and Mirco Mueller with two each and takeaways by Carrick with two.
Next up, the Devils will ride off down to Sunrise for their final game of the season. They take on the Florida Panthers on the road on Saturday at 7 PM. We will have coverage of that for you here as well as Ty Smith and the Spokane Chiefs’ first game against Everett in the WHL playoffs.