The New Jersey Devils will take on the Carolina Hurricanes in the second round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs, with the series beginning on Wednesday night. These playoffs have been a thrill ride so far, and with this series looking to be the most evenly matched of the second round, it doesn’t seem like that will stop anytime soon. Let’s preview this series and make a Devils-Hurricanes prediction.
To get to this point, both teams had to endure a hard-fought series in the first round. Carolina bested the New York Islanders in a defensive slugfest that lasted six games. Meanwhile, New Jersey overcame a 2-0 series deficit against the archrival New York Rangers, besting them in seven games.
These two teams were neck-and-neck with each other all season, with Carolina finishing one point ahead of New Jersey for first place in the Metropolitan Division. They split their four-game season series, with the Hurricanes winning the first two and the Devils winning the last two. The Hurricanes have also won three of the previous four playoff series against the Devils, the most recent being a six-game, first-round win in 2009.
This series, featuring the teams with the second- and third-best records in the entire league, should be a bloodbath. But who will win, the upstart Devils, or the veteran Hurricanes?
Without further ado, let’s preview the series and try to answer that question.
Strength vs. Strength
The two teams in this series have radically different strengths and play styles from each other. New Jersey is a team that plays a fast-paced game and thrives on its high-octane offense. Meanwhile, Carolina plays a slower game and prefers to shut opponents down as much as possible.
The Devils emerged as a contender this season largely thanks to their offensive firepower. They finished the regular season fifth in goals per game (3.52) and fourth in shots per game (34.4). With speedy skaters like Jack Hughes on the roster, the Devils are always a threat on the rush.
On the other side, the Hurricanes have been thriving on their defensive game for years. This season, they finished second in goals allowed per game (2.56) and first in shots allowed per game (26). Their blue line features shutdown players like Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce and Brady Skjei, and they can hold powerful offenses at bay. Of course, getting strong goaltending from Frederik Anderson and Antti Raanta also helps with that.
This series will be a battle of strengths. The Devils’ fast-paced play style will be put to the test against the Hurricanes’ stifling defense. However, Carolina also has to be able to create chances of its own from its counterattack. Whichever team is able to control the pace of the game will have a huge advantage.
Special Teams Will Be Critical
In terms of special teams, both New Jersey and Carolina had very similar numbers in the first round. They both performed very well on the penalty kill, but struggled on the power play.
The Rangers’ power play tore the Devils apart early on, scoring on six of 10 attempts in the first two games. After that, though, the Devils settled in and went 17-for-18 on the penalty kill in the final five games. However, their power play struggled the entire series, scoring on just 4-of-24 opportunities.
Meanwhile, the Hurricanes’ penalty kill was nearly perfect against the Islanders, only allowing one goal on 18 opportunities. Their power play was much less potent, though, going 5-for-25 in the series. Though, with the Islanders having the 30th-best power play (15.8%) and ninth-best penalty kill (82.2%) in the league this season, those numbers check out.
These are two of the very best teams in the league, and the series could go either way. That said, I’m going with the Devils to upset the division champion Hurricanes. I highlighted their offense, but their defense is also quietly very good with ex-Hurricane Dougie Hamilton leading the way. If rookie goaltender Akira Schmid can continue playing with the fire he did in the Rangers series, the Devils will be very hard to beat at both ends of the ice.
Meanwhile, I’m not as confident in Carolina’s offense. The Hurricanes did play another defense-first team in the first round, which could skew their numbers a bit, but this was also a problem late in the regular season as well.
Carolina’s injuries also concern me greatly. Max Pacioretty and Andrei Svechnikov were already out entering the playoffs, but Teuvo Teravainen also suffered an injury in Game 2 of the Islanders series and is out indefinitely. Without three of their top offensive players, I don’t see the Hurricanes keeping up with the Devils on the scoreboard.
I think it will still be close, but I’m taking the Devils to win in seven games.