There have been so many great games over the years between the Carolina Hurricanes and New Jersey Devils, four playoff series’ worth, enough of those that this briefly blossomed into one of the Canes’ biggest rivalries, although Scott Stevens had a lot to do with that, too.
There were some less-enthralling games, particularly during the NHL’s Dead Puck era, when nobody shut the game down better than the Devils and Paul Maurice wasn’t far behind.
Tuesday was more like the latter, an homage to the neutral-zone trapathon of 1999-2004 inclusive, minus the postseason drama of 2001 and 2002. The Devils stayed awake longer, for a 3-1 win that ended the Hurricanes’ home point streak at 11, four short of the record.
“We were really flat all througout the lineup, including myself,” Hurricanes forward Jordan Staal acknowledged. “We didn’t generate enough to get an extra gear and get through the neurtral zone and hold onto the puck and do all the things we do well to win games. Tonight, there wasn't a whole lot of that.”
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And so the streak came to an end, not before putting the Hurricanes on more solid ground in the standings, even if there’s still an extraordinary amount of work to do to get into the playoff picture. Given the Hurricanes’ dismal road record – 5-10-6 – missing out on points against teams below them in the standings is not a luxury in which they can indulge.
The 10-0-1 run that started Nov. 12 goes into the record books as the third-longest in franchise history, four games short of the record. Curiously enough, the rest of the top five all occurred in seasons that included playoff meetings with the Devils: 2006, 2009, 2002 and 2001.
Only Cam Ward and Travis Zajac, the last players standing from 2009, would remember any of that.
Despite facing only 17 shots, there was really nothing Ward could do about the goals he allowed Tuesday. Matt Tennyson, at the end of a very long shift, allowed Adam Henrique shooting time and space at the bottom of the right circle on the first; Mike Cammalleri (of course) scored late when his shot from near the goal line to Ward’s left fluttered off the shaft of Jaccob Slavin’s stick.
Ward certainly isn’t showing any signs of fatigue after making his 13th straight start. Equipment manager Jorge Alves’ 7.6-second cameo at the end of Saturday’s loss in Tampa was one of the great stories not just in hockey but all of sports to wrap up 2016, but it was only made possible by Eddie Lack’s continuing unavailability, and if the Hurricanes continue to stay within striking distance of a playoff spot as the Feb. 28 trade deadline approaches, it’s reaching the point where general manager Ron Francis may want to consider an upgrade in that area.
Look no further than the Devils, who are now tied with the Hurricanes (who have played three fewer games) thanks in large part to three wins over them. After being stymied twice by Devils backup Keith Kincaid earlier this season, the Hurricanes suffered the same fate at the hands of normal No. 1 Cory Schneider, coming off a shutout of the Boston Bruins.
The Hurricanes have been a dominant third-period team at home over the past six weeks but could generate little against Schneider despite a considerable possession advantage until it was already 2-0.
“I don't think very many guys in the room will be very happy with the way we played,” Hurricanes coach Peters said. “We can't play like that and expect a result. That's reality there.”
That left things decided by an empty-net goal, just like the days when Martin Brodeur and Arturs Irbe and Kevin Weekes (and Ward) held down these same nets, when the neutral zone was thoroughly and utterly trapped into submission, when the Hurricanes and Devils were regular playoff qualifiers and frequent opponents.
As much as both franchises would like to return to their postseason rivalry, no one wants to see that style come back. Tuesday was quite retro enough, thank you very much.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock