The Carolina Hurricanes are making a late push to get into the playoffs for the first time since 2008-09, and having a lot of fun doing it.
Jeff Skinner scored the go-ahead goal on a breakaway with 10:26 left, Sebastian Aho tallied twice and the surging Hurricanes stretched their point streak to 10 games with a 3-1 victory Saturday night that eliminated the New Jersey Devils from playoff contention for the fifth straight year.
"I kind of feel like the last 10 have been must-win for us," goaltender Eddie Lack said after making 26 saves. "I feel like we just keep battling here and we'll just see where we end up. Obviously, we're really excited about this stretch we are on, and it is so much more fun to play now when we have a chance and we're in it and battling."
Until a couple of weeks ago, the Hurricanes looked like a team that would be irrelevant during the final weeks of the season. Their 7-0-3 run has put them five points out of a playoff spot with nine games left in the regular season.
"Guys are playing well, guys are dialed in," Carolina coach Bill Peters said. "You have to continue to keep pace around the league. Everyone seems to find a way to win so you have to keep pace, and hopefully, somebody falters."
Travis Zajac scored for the Devils, who have not made the postseason since going to the 2012 Stanley Cup final. Cory Schneider stopped 25 shots for New Jersey, which is 2-12-2 in its last 16 games.
"It was a formality at this point," Schneider said of being eliminated. "I just think to continue to lose games like that is more frustrating. It's tough. We're working. We just need to find a way to win. It's tough not to be in the playoffs, though."
Skinner's goal was his 30th of the season and seventh in the last five games. He poked the puck past Devils defenseman Andy Greene at the left point and skated in alone on Schneider.
"It was a fortunate bounce to get the breakaway, making a move on him and getting it over his pads," Skinner said. "When you are going like this you also have to be successful as a team and as a line and hopefully we can keep that going."
Aho made it 3-1 with his 23rd goal on a shot from low in the left circle with 3:14 to play.
The Devils tied it 1-all with 2:57 left in the second period after a turnover by the Hurricanes at the New Jersey blue line. Derek Ryan failed to handle a cross-ice pass and Taylor Hall led a counterattack. He skated the puck into the Carolina zone and found Zajac alone between the circles for his 14th goal.
Aho had given Carolina the lead at 2:47 of the period. The Hurricanes kept the puck in the Devils end and Elias Lindholm found Aho alone in front with a pass from behind the net.
The Devils almost took the lead in the third period but Lack stopped a breakaway attempt by Blake Pietila.
NOTES: Lindholm has a career-high 10-game point streak (four goals, seven assists). ... Lack has won three straight starts. ... Aho has points in six straight games (three goals, five assists). ... New Jersey dressed seven defensemen. ... The Devils won the season series 3-1. ... Carolina has not allowed a power-play goal in nine games, killing off 17 straight penalties.
Hurricanes: Host the Red Wings on Monday and Tuesday. An ice problem at PNC Arena on Dec. 19 forced the teams to postpone a game. It was rescheduled for Monday, setting up the rare set of back-to-back games in the same city.
Devils: Host the Dallas Stars on Sunday.
Follow Tom Canavan at http://twitter.com/APTCan