Devils, Hurricanes clash in key Eastern Conference battle

A couple of playoff-hopeful teams in desperate need of a win will meet Thursday night in Raleigh, as the Carolina Hurricanes welcome the New Jersey Devils for an important Eastern Conference clash at PNC Arena.

The Devils and Hurricanes enter Thursday locked in a three-way tie for the seventh seed in the East. Carolina and New Jersey have 32 points on the season, as do the New York Rangers, who are hosting the Florida Panthers on Thursday.

After losing a pair of regulation decisions against Carolina this season, the Devils will get one last chance to beat the Hurricanes in this third and final scheduled encounter of the campaign.

Although Carolina has won three of the past four meetings, the Devils still have six victories in the last nine encounters overall. However, New Jersey hasn't fared well recently in the Tar Heel State, losing seven of 10 at PNC Arena.

Both Carolina and Jersey will try to halt losing streaks on Thursday. The Devils enter this contest on a three-game skid (0-2-1) and the 'Canes are 0-3-1 during a season-worst four-game slide.

The Devils hope the return of goaltender Martin Broduer can get them back in the win column. Brodeur has been out since Feb. 21 due to back soreness, but the future Hall of Famer will return to the crease Thursday after missing 13 games. New Jersey went 3-8-2 in Brodeur's absence.

Johan Hedberg started every game while Brodeur was sidelined and he took a 3-2 loss Tuesday against the visiting Rangers. Rick Nash scored the deciding goal 7:25 into the second period to help lift New York to the win.

Travis Zajac and Anton Volchenkov had the goals for New Jersey, with Hedberg stopping 19-of-22 shots in the Devils' third consecutive setback.

Although both Carolina and Jersey lost on Tuesday, the Hurricanes suffered the more disturbing setback of the two, dropping a 4-1 home decision against the league-worst Panthers. Jacob Markstrom made 33 saves and the Panthers scored all of their goals in the third period to earn just their eighth win in 30 games this season.

Dan Ellis' 40 saves went for naught as the Hurricanes went 0-for-3 on the power play. Jordan Staal spoiled Markstrom's shutout bid with 2:33 left in the game, but the damage had already been done.

"They outworked us, that's all it comes down to," said Ellis. "They created havoc and they executed."

Carolina defenseman Justin Faulk suffered a sprained knee ligament in the loss and will be out for the next 2-to-4 weeks. Faulk is leading the Hurricanes in ice time this season and is also second among the club's defensemen with 10 points.

The Hurricanes, who are two points behind the Southeast Division-leading Winnipeg Jets, haven't lost five in a row since an 0-6-1 losing streak from Nov. 23-Dec. 6 of last season.

Carolina is 7-7-0 on home ice this season and the Devils are 4-6-4 as the guest.