Devils, Dougie Hamilton
(Photo by Mark Fischgrund - JSN)

NHL Eastern Conference Semifinals Preview: Devils vs Hurricanes


The New Jersey Devils enter the Eastern Conference Semifinals having gone 2-1-1 against Carolina in the regular season, including winning the last two in convincing fashion. The Devils won twice in regulation, once in each rink, and the Hurricanes beat the Devils earlier in the year in Carolina and won by shootout on New Year’s Day at The Rock.

  • The Devils outscored the Hurricanes 13-11 in the four games head to head
  • The Devils finished one point behind Carolina in the standings and had a goal differential of +53 to the +65 to the Devils
  • In Round 1 the Devils prevailed over the Rangers in seven games, the Canes eliminated the Islanders in overtime of game six. 
  • The Canes outshot (127-112) and out-chanced (131-119) the Devils but despite this the Devils had significantly more high danger chances in the series (65-50). 
  • The Canes had more shots in three of the four regular season games, only being outshot in their one regulation win. They also won the faceoff battle against the Devils in every game. 
  • The Devils outscored the Canes 10-6 at 5v5 and the expected goals for each were separated by .4 over 184 minutes. 
  • In the regular season, these teams were ranked 1st (Canes) and 2nd (Devils) by in expected goal percentage at 5v5.


This series presents a very different challenge than the first round opponent. The Canes did not have a player top 71 points for the season. The Canes are also without two of their top six scoring forwards for the series (Svechnikov and Teravainen). Carolina will rely on both the speed of their younger forwards (Jarvis, Kotkaniemi, Necas) and the blue collar, dogged forecheck of the rest of the group.

The Canes are widely considered the best forechecking team in the NHL and they present a formidable task for a Devils defense corps that will have to breakout of the zone under significant pressure. They will also put pressure on the goaltender to handle the puck effectively. They are not without high end offensive players including Sebastian Aho and Martin Necas.  

Carolina will try to win the series in the “dirty” areas by which team can get goal front position and cash in rebound and tip opportunities.  The Devils will attempt to score off the rush, which is one of the weaknesses of the Canes’ goaltenders. 

The Devils have thrived against the Canes by using their speed defensively. The most recent game played between the teams in March was decided by the Devils ability to use their speed to cause turnovers and create goals in transition. Hughes and Bratt especially thrived in that style accounting for all three goals in the game. 

The Devils will have an advantage again in quality depth which will allow Lindy Ruff and his staff to make tactical adjustments as the series continues as they did against the Rangers. The Canes also boast depth as four different line combinations are in the top 20 for expected goals in the first round of the playoffs including both lines comprising their bottom six. 

Players to watch: Devils - Dawson Mercer, Jesper Bratt & Jack Hughes

Canes - Sebastian Aho,  Jesperi Kotkaniemi, & Jesper Fast, 



The Devils boast the best right side defensive corps in the NHL with Dougie Hamilton, John Marino, & Damon Severson. The defense corps of the Canes is the strength of the team. The top pairing of Jaccob Slavin and Brent Burns is one of the most complete pairs in the entire league. Of pairs that played at least 75 games together, the Canes have the top two in expected goal percentage, Slavin/Burns and Pesce/Skjei. The third pair in expected goals is Hamilton/Siegenthaler, Ryan Graves and John Marino are 10th in the NHL.  

 Hamilton set club records for goals by a defenseman and has had a knack all season long to score important goals especially on the power play. Where the series will be won and lost though will be the ability of the both team’s defensemen to handle the puck without turning it over in the defensive zone and to get pucks through on net. Burns and Hamilton are masters at the latter. The Canes actually targeted Burns as a way to replace the loss of Hamilton. 

Graves and Marino have been one of the statistically best pairs in the NHL all season, and will be relied upon to shut down whomever the coaching staff deems to be the biggest offensive threat. Graves’ length and ability to end plays combined with Marino’s one on one defending and ability to move the puck will be vital in suppressing opportunities for the Canes.

The Devils benefit largely from a third pair of Severson and Bahl who in just under 40 games played together actually have a higher expected goals rate than Slavin/Burns. (64-61) The Devils also boast a considerable depth advantage in being able to draw Luke Hughes and Brendan Smith into the lineup to cover for an injury or a matchup issue.. 

Players to Watch : Devils - Dougie Hamilton

Rangers - Brent Burns, Brady Skjei



The biggest advantage the Rangers had over the Devils in round one appeared to be goaltending. With the emergence of Akira Schmid, (For goalies who played more than one game in the first round, he leads all in Save Pct (.951), GAA (1.38) and Shutouts (2)) in goal the Devils have turned a disadvantage into a strength. Vanecek is standing in the wings as a reliable backup, and even Blackwood has had a good history against Carolina. Vanecek stopped all 32 shots he faced against Carolina in the March meeting between the clubs. 

Kevin Woodley of has a tremendous breakdown of the strengths and weaknesses of the goalies in the series. If Carolina can rely on battle tested Fredrik Andersen it will be a calming factor for the team much like Schmid was for the Devils in the first round. Andersen has been plagued by illness and injury throughout the season saving 3 goals below expected, and his save percentage dipped to .903, well below his career average. Which Andersen will show up for the Canes will go a long way to determining how long the series lasts.  



“Special teams, for sure, most of the time that is the difference in the playoffs,” was how John Marino described the most important matchup of the series. The Devils struggled, at times, in slowing the Rangers power play but when not conceding a power play goal they are 4-0 in the post season. The Canes boast one of the top penalty kill units in the league. In just four games against the Devils they scored four shorthanded goals, nearly half of their season total of nine. Likewise, the Devils penalty kill is capable of scoring shorthanded.  The team that can make special teams a net positive may secure the advantage that tips the scales in the series. 

Players to Watch: Devils - Erik Haula, Michael McLeod, Nico Hischier

Canes - Martin Necas, Stefan Noesen, 



  • Use their speed to create goal scoring opportunities on takeaways
  • Do not allow Carolina to set the forecheck and get hemmed in for long periods
  • Breakout effectively with quick retrievals
  • Do not surrender shorthanded goals


  • Get vintage  goaltending from Andersen
  • Use their forecheck to create turnovers and high danger chances
  • Win special teams
  • Shut down the middle of the ice and force the Devils to play more East to West


  • Erik Haula
  • Damon Severson
  • Dawson Mercer
  • Tomas Tatar
  • Jesperi Kotkaniemi
  • Brady Skjei
  • Seth Jarvis
  • Jesper Fast


This series will be a war of attrition. The Canes will win their share of battles, largely on the back of their forecheck, system and experience. The Devils abundance of speed and offensive talent should win the day, with the best example being the game the Devils played against the Canes in March where they used their speed and defensive structure to bend but not break in shutting out the Svechnikov-less Canes.  The Devils will be happy to see anyone in net other than Shesterkin and their stars can now relax having a series win under their belt and should begin converting their abundant chances. Devils will win the war in six games.