The New Jersey Devils have held serve with the Carolina Hurricanes from afar for more than two months.
On Sunday night, the Devils will get their last chance to directly deliver an impact to the Hurricanes when they host Carolina in Newark, N.J., in a battle of the top two teams in the Metropolitan Division.
Both teams will be completing a back-to-back set after the division race grew closer Saturday when the Devils beat the host Montreal Canadiens 3-1, and the Hurricanes lost to the visiting Vegas Golden Knights 4-0.
The results Saturday pulled the Devils (92 points) within two points of the Hurricanes — the same margin separating the teams following their most recent meeting on Jan. 10, when New Jersey earned a 5-3 victory.
“It’s a huge game,” Devils defenseman Ryan Graves said. “You circle these ones on your calendar. You’re looking forward to it.”
The Hurricanes have two wins and four points against the Devils this season by virtue of their 4-1 triumph on Dec. 20 and their 5-4 shootout victory on Jan. 1. New Jersey has three points against Carolina, and Sunday’s game will be the final regular-season meeting between the teams.
“Both teams coming in on a back-to-back,” Graves said. “This is going to be a good test for our group. I’m sure they’re kind of thinking the same thing.”
The back-to-back is the second since the All-Star break for both the Devils and Hurricanes.
“They played too, so that excuse is out the window,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “This time of year, there’s a lot of hockey.”
After Sunday, the Devils will have one game in hand on the Hurricanes.
Each squad has kept the pressure on the other over the past month. The Devils improved to 9-3-1 since Feb. 13 on Saturday, when Nathan Bastian and Nico Hischier staked New Jersey to a 2-0 lead in the first period before Tomas Tatar added an insurance goal in the third against the Canadiens.
“I think we’re doing a lot of good stuff right now,” Tatar said. “Obviously, in some games you get certain puck luck when we bring the points home. But I think overall, we’re very happy with where the game is.”
The Hurricanes were the victims of Jonathan Quick’s first shutout outside of a Los Angeles Kings uniform on Saturday, when the two-time Stanley Cup winner stopped all 33 shots he faced for the Golden Knights. Quick was acquired just before the trade deadline this month.
The loss for the Hurricanes snapped their four-game winning streak and dropped them to 9-3-0 since Feb. 13.
Carolina — which scored 16 goals in the first three wins of the streak before edging the Philadelphia Flyers 1-0 on Thursday — was blanked for just the third time this season and the first time since a 4-0 loss to the Arizona Coyotes on Nov. 23.
“There was enough chances to win the game, so we can’t dwell on that,” Hurricanes center Jordan Staal said. “Their goalie played well. We have a big game (Sunday).”
–Field Level Media