Devils blown away


RALEIGH, N.C. – The New Jersey Devils eventually were going to lose. Boy, did they ever.

Ray Whitney scored two fortuitous goals, rookie Cam Ward got his first career playoff shutout and the Carolina Hurricanes ended New Jersey’s 15-game winning streak with a 6-0 victory Saturday in the opener of the Eastern Conference semifinal series.

It was the first loss for the Devils since March 26 – they won the final 11 games of the regular season on the way to the Atlantic Division, then swept the New York Rangers in the previous round. The winning streak tied the longest in NHL history that encompassed the regular season and playoffs.

But New Jersey never had a chance in this one. Maybe it was the weeklong layoff between games, or perhaps it was the play of the Hurricanes. Either way, the Devils must find a way to bounce back for Game 2 on Monday night.

Eric Staal, Cory Stillman, Doug Weight and captain Rod Brind’Amour also scored for Carolina, which now has won five straight in the postseason. Ward had to make only 21 saves, continuing his impressive play after taking over for starter Martin Gerber in the first period of the second game against Montreal.

The 22-year-old Ward finished with a 1.54 goals-against average in that series, and he was even better against New Jersey. His counterpart, Martin Brodeur, wasn’t as fortunate on his 34th birthday, getting pulled late in the third period.

Whitney got it started early, scoring on the power play to give the Hurricanes a 1-0 lead. He tried to center the puck through the crease and Brodeur swiped at it with his stick, knocking the puck off the skate of defenseman Brad Lukowich and back through his legs into the net.

This was unfamiliar territory for the Devils, who trailed for only 4:39 in the entire series against the Rangers. It got worse in the second period.

Again, Whitney put the puck in the net. He skated in to the right of the net and sent a pass back through the crease.

This time, Brodeur knocked it in all by himself, and Carolina led 2-0. It was Whitney’s third goal of the playoffs, and none were actual shots on the net.

Perhaps the turning point came about 3 minutes later, when the Hurricanes killed back-to-back penalties that included 9 seconds of 5-on-3. First, Aaron Ward went off for hooking, and seconds after he returned, Bret Hedican was called for tripping.

Then, when that one ended, Mike Commodore got a penalty for cross-checking, but the power play disappeared in only 14 seconds when New Jersey center Scott Gomez was penalized for hooking. New Jersey failed to mount any real offense in that stretch.

Later in the period, Carolina took control, thanks to some undisciplined play by the Devils. Sergei Brylin and Jamie Langenbrunner went to the penalty box to give up an extended two-man advantage. Brind’Amour came on to win the ensuing faceoff and got the puck to Staal, who went to the net to beat Brodeur.

Carolina still had 1:51 left of 5-on-4, and Stillman easily put in a rebound for a 4-0 lead. Weight and Brind’Amour added goals in third period to complete the rout and send Brodeur to the bench. Backup Scott Clemmensen got the first playoff action of his career.

Notes: Commodore and New Jersey RW Cam Janssen squared off in the third period, with Janssen losing his helmet. Both players got in some punches before tiring out and heading to the penalty box. … The Devils’ winning streak matched that of the 1954-55 Detroit Red Wings, who won their second straight Stanley Cup title that season.

AP-ES-05-06-06 1655EDT