Top line comes through for Hurricanes
Ray Whitney got in on all four goals, including a pair by linemate Eric Staal, and Cam Ward stopped all 28 shots he faced to help the Carolina Hurricanes force a seventh and deciding game with a 4-0 home win over the New Jersey Devils on Sunday night.
Whitney scored the game's opening goal off a feed from Staal and set up the other three, including Jussi Jokinen's 5-on-3 marker midway through the final period that put the exclamation point on Game 6.
With the newly formed top trio of Whitney, Staal and Chad Larose (two assists) setting the pace, Carolina peppered Devils goalie Martin Brodeur with 37 shots. Ward did the rest, earning his third career playoff shutout and first since he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as a rookie on the Hurricanes' 2006 Stanley Cup championship team.
"I guess when you have nothing really to lose, other than being gone, you can play a little bit more relaxed," Whitney said.
Game 7 goes Tuesday night in New Jersey (7:30 p.m. ET).
"The difference in tonight was, a team that played like there was no tomorrow and the other team played like there was," Devils coach Brent Sutter said. "When that happens, usually the team that plays like there is another tomorrow will end up on the wrong side."
Hurricanes come out firing
Sutter's team didn't get much of a lift from the return of captain Jamie Langenbrunner, who missed the last three games with an injury. The winger finished a minus-1 in 16:26 of ice time.
The Hurricanes, on the other hand, came out buzzing in front of a raucous Raleigh crowd that hoped to witness its team become the second of the day to force a seventh game in its opening-round series. Earlier, the Washington Capitals earned a rubber match by beating the New York Rangers 5-3.
The guys in red, seeded No. 6 in the NHL's Eastern Conference, seemed to feed off their fans' energy as they outshot the No. 3 Devils by a whopping 15-4 in the first period.
Brodeur made some big saves to keep the Devils from falling behind early, including six while Michael Rupp was in the box for holding.
But there's only so much a goalie can do, and Carolina broke through at 10:32 when Staal fought off two Jersey defenders behind the net and threw the puck out front for Whitney, who batted it out of the air and past Brodeur.
Staal steps up
The second period wasn't as lopsided in shots on goal — Carolina had a 14-11 advantage — but Staal tilted the scoreboard even more in favour of the home side with a pair of goals.
The Hurricanes' 40-goal centre put his team ahead 2-0 at 4:44 when he took a drop pass from Whitney in the slot and fired a shot off Brodeur's left skate and in.
Less than three minutes later, Staal was the trigger man on a two-on-one rush with Whitney, one-timing the feed from his left-winger for his fourth goal of the playoffs. By that point, the Hurricanes had a 23-5 advantage in shots.
"The way we played, we didn't give ourselves a good chance to win this hockey game," Brodeur said.
Whitney acted the playmaker again in the third period. With penalties to Devils forwards Travis Zajac and John Madden giving Carolina the only two-man advantage of the game, Whitney threaded a pass through Brodeur's crease to Jokinen, who was there for an easy tap-in.
Ward made his best save of the night with just over six minutes left. Beautifully anticipating a cross-ice feed, he slid over to get a pad on Brendan Shanahan's low one-timer.
The stop helped ensure the contest would end as the most lopsided of the tightly contested series. Sandwiched between Sunday's laugher and New Jersey's 4-1 win in the opener were four one-goal games, including three in a row that required overtime.
With files from The Associated Press