The round two matchup between the New Jersey Devils and Carolina Hurricanes begins Wednesday.
The Devils and Hurricanes have a limited playoff history, but it almost always ends in heartbreak for the Devils. In four playoff matchups, the Hurricanes have prevailed three times. The Devils have not beaten Carolina in the postseason since 2001.
Ask a few weeks ago and it seemed like Carolina would be the favorites in this matchup. Carolina won the division and held off New Jersey’s strong push for the Metropolitan crown in the season’s final days.
Carolina is also making their fifth consecutive trip to the playoffs, while New Jersey is making their first since 2018 and only second since 2012. Since then, Carolina has lost two of their top-six forwards in Andrei Svechnikov and Teuvo Teravainen, testing their already subpar forward depth. Teravainen could potentially return for the Conference Finals, but not this series.
The Hurricanes defense can and must do more than chip in the occasion goal.
So, how is Carolina going to make up for that lost scoring? Option A is getting scoring from unlikely players stepping up, such as Stefan Noesen. Option B should be getting their defense to chip in whenever they can.
Since the trade deadline acquisition of Shayne Gostisbehere, Carolina’s defense has largely stayed the same. Their top pairing all season has been Jacob Slavin and Brent Burns, followed by Brady Skjei and Brett Pesce, and being rounded out with a third pairing of Gostisbehere and Jalen Chatfield.
Each of their defense pairings has at least one skater who scored 35 points in the regular season. Brett Burns leads the way with 65 points, Skjei had 38 points, and Gostisbehere had 41 points split between Carolina and the Arizona Coyotes.
Every one of Carolina’s top-six defensemen had at least a point in the Hurricanes’ six-game win over the New York Islanders, with the exception of Gostisbehere. Burns is actually second on the team in playoff scoring with five points.
Compare that with their opposition. Dougie Hamilton, a former Hurricane who’s going to have a fun storyline to follow this series, has had a historic offensive season for the New Jersey Devils.
The rest of the Devils defense has been largely held down by unsung heroes known more for their defensive acumen instead of seeing their names on the scoring sheet.
Players like Jonas Siegenthaler and John Marino have been large contributors used more in the fashion of the Hurricanes’ Jacob Slavin.
Out of New Jersey’s six regulars on defense (Hamilton, Siegenthaler, Ryan Graves, Marino, Damon Severson, and Kevin Bahl), only two reached the 30-point mark.
Hamilton had a monster 74 points (which would have placed him first among defensemen on his former team in Carolina), and Severson had 33 while spending most of this season on the team’s third pairing with either Bahl or Brendan Smith.
By regular season stats alone, Carolina’s top-six on defense scored 215 points compared to New Jersey’s 180.
New Jersey’s top-six on defense (this comes with an asterisk, as Siegenthaler was benched one game in favor of Smith) scored an identical 11 points so far in the playoffs to Carolina’s 11 from their defensive core. New Jersey also had the benefit of playing in one extra game.
Both faced elite goaltenders, and their playoff opponents in the Islanders and New York Rangers were fifth and fourth in the NHL this past season in goals against per game.
Brent Burns has the chance to be one of Carolina’s biggest “X-factors” entering this matchup. The veteran defenseman has a ton of playoff experience, along with a smile that will melt your heart, with 100 games and 67 points in the postseason (20 goals and 47 assists) for 0.67 points per game.
For comparison, Erik Karlsson, who is considered the preeminent offensive defenseman currently in the NHL, sports a points per game in the playoffs of 0.79.
Yes, it might have been seven years ago, but it’s worth noting that Burns was a point-per-game player on the San Jose Sharks’ run to the 2016 Stanley Cup Final with 24 points in 24 playoff games that season.
Burns had 77 shots on goal in 24 playoff games, averaging 3.20 per game. In this year’s playoffs, he has 27 through six games, good enough for 4.50 average shots per game, so Burns is still prioritizing putting that puck on net.
NHL.com even said the Devils need to stop Carolina’s top defenseman as a key to them winning this series. Every goal counts and here in the playoffs, as they come at a premium. Carolina’s defense may have some untapped scoring potential.