Hurricanes face Devils riding comeback streak

Updated: May 3, 2006, 8:32 PM ET
Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. -- What a difference a week makes for the Carolina Hurricanes.

Seven days ago, they appeared on the verge of a complete collapse following two home losses in the Eastern Conference series against Montreal. Starting goalie Martin Gerber was pulled from the second one in the first period, leaving him with nine goals allowed on 34 shots in the two games.

A team meeting held before the series shifted to Montreal cleared the air.

"Before we got on the plane from Raleigh coming to Montreal, we said we're going to win two," Carolina center Doug Weight said. "We're going to win the first one first and we're going to go from there."

That's exactly what happened. With rookie Cam Ward taking over in goal, the Hurricanes suddenly looked more like the team that finished the regular season with the second-best record in the East. They won the final four games to advance, making them one of the hottest teams in the NHL.

In the next round, Carolina meets the other one -- the New Jersey Devils, who swept the New York Rangers and have now won 15 straight dating to the regular season.

"We know we're in for a heck of a series, and I think we're going to have to play even a little better if we're going to beat them," captain Rod Brind'Amour said.

It's hard to imagine Ward can be much better. He won all four of his starts -- he was credited with the loss when the Canadiens won Game 2 in two overtimes -- and finished with a 1.54 goals-against average, good for fourth among playoff goalies.

With Montreal stymied, the Hurricanes were able to get back to the style of play that served them so well this season. Sure, each of their victories was by a one goal and two went beyond regulation, but the swagger was back.

"We wouldn't be the first team to ride a rookie goalie all the way to the finals," said left winger Cory Stillman, who had the winning goal in Game 6 on Tuesday night. "It's been done before and hopefully he's the man to do it for us."

Carolina has home ice over the Devils, even if the same advantage didn't work out so well against Montreal. During the regular season, the Hurricanes won the first two meetings with New Jersey before losing the next two, with the final one decided in overtime.

However, the two victories were by a combined score of 10-2.

"When we play our game, we're so confident with it," Weight said. "But I certainly see why this team did that in November and has that stigma and reputation, and hopefully it's not going to stop because as a team, we expect to win."

If Ward does falter for any reason, Gerber is ready. He was bothered by a stomach ailment that dragged into the postseason, perhaps part of the explanation for his shoddy play.

During the regular season, Gerber finished 38-14-6 to set a franchise record for victories.

"It can't be any better, because we've got our guy going and we've got another guy that we know is awesome because he was there all year, so that's a good feeling," Brind'Amour said.

And if the Hurricanes can keep winning, there's a chance Erik Cole might be back. The talented left winger missed the final 22 games with a fractured vertebra after totaling a career-high 60 points in the first 60 games.

"I'm certainly still holding on to hope," Cole said. "I think once we get through the next couple of weeks here we'll have a better idea of where I'm at or how far away I am, but for now I'm definitely holding out hope."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press