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Hurricanes look to continue torrid run vs. Devils

Dec 30, 2022; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Hurricanes center Jesperi Kotkaniemi (82) is congratulated by center Paul Stastny (26) after his goal against the Florida Panthers during the third period at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Hurricanes spent much of 2022 making their case as the most impressive team in the Metropolitan Division.

The New Jersey Devils closed out the calendar year by establishing themselves as the division’s biggest surprise.

The top two teams in the Metropolitan Division will play in the first NHL game of 2023 on Sunday afternoon in Newark, N.J.

Both teams were off on New Year’s Eve after earning wins on Friday night. The red-hot Hurricanes recorded a 4-0 victory over the visiting Florida Panthers, and the Devils recorded a much-needed win with a 4-2 decision over the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The results kept the Hurricanes six points ahead of the second-place Devils in the Metropolitan Division.

The win was the 10th straight for the Hurricanes, who ended the Washington Capitals’ five-season reign as Metropolitan Division champions in 2021-22. The Capitals were part of the temporarily realigned East Division during the pandemic-shortened 2021 season, when Carolina won the Central Division.

The Hurricanes’ hopes of winning the second Stanley Cup in franchise history ended with a seven-game loss to the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference semifinals. But Carolina has asserted itself as a Cup contender again by going 14-0-2 in its last 16 games, a span in which it has earned eight wins by one goal.

The 10 straight wins and 16 consecutive games with a point are both Hurricanes/Hartford Whalers franchise records.

“I think we’ve been solid this whole stretch and, to be honest with you, the whole year,” Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “What I’ve really liked about this stretch is we haven’t had any dips in our game.”

The win over the Penguins came at a pivotal time for the Devils, who are looking to reach the playoffs for just the third time in the last 13 seasons. New Jersey has finished last or next-to-last in its division in seven of the previous eight seasons. The Devils went 21-2-1 from Oct. 18 through Dec. 6 to surge into first place in the Metropolitan.

But the Devils have gone 2-7-1 since then to not only fall out of first place but endanger their playoff positioning in the competitive Eastern Conference. New Jersey entered Saturday four points ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Islanders and Rangers, who are tied for the two wild-card spots.

The Devils looked as if they might fall into an even more precarious spot Friday, when they fell behind 1-0 and 2-1 before defenseman Dougie Hamilton and captain Nico Hischier scored the tying and game-winning goals in a span of fewer than two minutes late in the second period.

Hischier’s goal was a short-handed tally for New Jersey. Jack Hughes added an empty-net tally with five seconds left.

“I think it was definitely a game-changer right there,” Hischier said. “It just feels good. It definitely feels good to have this win tonight.”

–Field Level Media