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The Carolina Hurricanes open their second round series at home tonight, as they host the New Jersey Devils.
The teams were separated by just a single point this season, but it was enough for the Hurricanes to lock up their third straight division title. As a result, the Hurricanes faced the New York Islanders in the first round of the playoffs, who they defeated in six games, while the Devils are fresh off a Game 7 win to advance past the New York Rangers.
Heading into Game 1 tonight, we’ll breakdown how the teams stack up against one another.
Carolina’s offense is certainly capable when healthy, but as everyone knows, injuries have been a huge issue for the forward group. Max Pacioretty and Andrei Svechnikov are out for the season, then Teuvo Teravainen was also injured in the first round. Sebastian Aho has had to carry the bulk of the load as a result, which he was able to do in the first round, with four goals and seven points. Depth scoring is a strength, and the likes of Stefan Noesen and Seth Jarvis did step up in the first round, but the Hurricanes probably aren’t going to be able to go goal-for-goal with the Devils.
With New Jersey, despite their high-speed offense tearing up the NHL throughout the regular season, the team didn’t actually have as easy of a time scoring during the first round. New Jersey managed just 17 goals across seven games. At the same time, you can attribute some of that scoring trouble to the fact they were facing Igor Shesterkin, who was stellar throughout the series and ended up registering a .931 save percentage.
Erik Haula actually led the Devils in both goals (4) and points (6) in the first round, with Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier and Ondrej Palat each managing five points and Jesper Bratt registering four points.
However, the Devils couldn’t find much depth scoring, which didn’t help. Dawson Mercer ended the series with two goals and three points, while Michael McLeod had a goal and an assist, but all other forwards after that managed a point or less throughout the series. Notably, Timo Meier failed to register a single point against the Rangers. Then Tomas Tatar only had one goal in seven games, while Nathan Bastian and Jesper Boqvist went pointless as well.
Again, playing Shesterkin factors into this and I wouldn’t anticipate the Devils having as much trouble against Carolina. Comparing the forward groups based on available players, the Devils still have a distinct advantage.
However, Carolina's blue line is what helps the team to thrive. It’s a well-constructed group that can really limit chances from their opponents, with Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce, Brady Skjei and Jalen Chatfield all very sound defensively. But they can also add offense, and with Brent Burns and now Shayne Gostisbehere in the mix, along with Skjei’s big year, the group has been counted on to help offset the losses up front.
One of the stories with New Jersey’s blue line this series is obviously Dougie Hamilton. The defenseman spent three seasons with the Hurricanes, emerging as a top-pairing, offensive threat while paired with Jaccob Slavin. He departed two years ago to join the Devils, signing a monster contract in New Jersey.
In addition to Hamilton, Ryan Graves, John Marino, Jonas Siegenthalter and Damon Severson will each be counted on to play big role, while Kevin Bahl rounds out the group. It’s also always possible we could see another ex-Hurricane in the series, with Brendan Smith acting as an extra defender for the Devils.
New Jersey’s defense group is solid, but I think this is still where the Hurricanes have the edge. The Devils arguably have five top-four defensemen within their group, with Damon Severson playing on the bottom pair. However, Carolina’s blue line is so well-rounded, with a blend of defensive reliability and offensive punch, that there aren’t a ton of better groups around the league.
In net, both teams used two netminders in the first round. Carolina ran with Antti Raanta for the first five games, before turning to Frederik Andersen in Game 6. I think there’s a good chance we end up seeing both goalies get starts in the upcoming series once again.
For the Devils, it was kind of a similar story. Vitek Vanecek started the series against New York but after surrendering nine goals on 52 shots across Games 1 and 2 on route to back-to-back losses, New Jersey turned to rookie Akira Schmid. The move paid off in a massive way, as Schmid completely shut down the Rangers with a .951 save percentage across five starts.
Despite Schmid’s performance, I still hesitate to say the Devils have an edge in net. If he’s able to sustain the same level of play in the second round, then things don’t look good for Carolina, given the Hurricanes' frequent inability to bury chances as is. But it’s still a relatively small sample size to go off (even if he did also post very good numbers across 18 regular season games), and the Andersen/Raanta tandem gives Carolina options. I don’t think either team truly has a clear advantage in net heading into the series, with Schmid carrying the momentum but the Hurricanes having two capable, veteran netminders.
Special teams are going to be an interesting factor as well. Both teams were excellent on the penalty kill this season, with Carolina ranking second in the NHL and New Jersey ranking fourth. However, both teams had pretty average power plays, with the Devils operating around 22 per cent (13th overall) and the Hurricanes hovering around 20 per cent (20th overall).
In the first round, Carolina’s penalty kill still managed to outperform expectations, killing off 17 of 18 Islanders power plays and operating at 94 per cent. While it was against a team that massively struggles on the man advantage, it was impressive nonetheless. The Devils, on the other hand, basically maintained their 82 per cent penalty kill efficiency from the regular season. Both teams had similar success on the power play though, but a storyline to track will be whether Carolina’s power play can continue to operate at even an average rate, after really struggling at times during the regular season.
So heading into the round, there’s reason for excitement. The teams put on some entertaining games throughout the regular season and we can expect a fun series.
Honestly though, this is a difficult matchup for Carolina, just based on the offensive mismatch. The Hurricanes’ path to win will be slowing down the Devils and trying to shut down chances. Carolina can often struggle to convert on opportunities, but their relentless forecheck can generate chances and they’ll need to find a way to take advantage. If the Hurricanes are winning games this series, most of them are probably more likely to be a 2-1 final where they outwork their opponent and limit chances against, rather than a 6-5 thriller with back-and-forth scoring.
Home ice advantage is also huge for the Hurricanes – they’ve won nine of their last 11 home playoff games, dating back to last year.
The team has overcome adversity to this point, hanging on to take the Metropolitan Division title and then knocking out the Islanders, despite the injury trouble. We’ll see if this is the year they’re able to get out of the second round.
Game 1 is set for 7 p.m.
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