Hurricanes wipe out Devils in five games

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – Denied a power play for more than 30 minutes, the Carolina Hurricanes made the most of their first to earn a trip to the Eastern Conference final.

Cory Stillman got the go-ahead goal on that man-advantage midway through the second period, rookie goalie Cam Ward steadied himself following a rocky start and Carolina beat the New Jersey Devils 4-1 Sunday night to win the best-of-seven series in five games.

Frantisek Kaberle, Ray Whitney and Eric Staal also scored for the Hurricanes, who have won eight of their past nine games in the playoffs. They clinched a series at home for the first time and will face the Buffalo Sabres next, with the winner advancing to the Stanley Cup final.

The Devils took a 1-0 lead less than a minute after the opening faceoff, when Brian Gionta took advantage of a fortuitous bounce to beat Ward, a 22-year-old netminder who was pulled after allowing four goals in a little more than one period Saturday.

New Jersey won that game 5-1 to avoid a sweep, but Ward bounced back to end the Devils’ season a day later.

He finished with 17 saves, including 10 in the first period when Carolina played short-handed for 8 minutes. The Devils failed to capitalize on any of those power plays, and Kaberle tied the score on the Hurricanes’ second shot of the game.

It came when teammate Matt Cullen beat John Madden on a faceoff, and Mark Recchi got the puck to Kaberle along the wall. His shot ricocheted off Paul Martin and past goalie Martin Brodeur, electrifying another capacity crowd at the RBC Center.

After Carolina killed off another penalty early in the second period, New Jersey was called for its first infraction. Defenseman David Hale was sent to the box for cross-checking, and Stillman made the Devils pay 50 seconds later.

Rod Brind’Amour carried the puck in and passed to Justin Williams, who quickly fed Stillman on the doorstep with Brodeur out of position. It completed a nifty 3-on-2 – Brian Rafalski and Brad Lukowich were back on defense – and the Hurricanes had the lead.

Stillman later left the game with an apparent leg injury, when he and New Jersey defenseman Brad Lukowich got tangled up along the boards. He was helped off the ice by Brind’Amour and Williams, then headed straight to the locker room. There was no immediate word on his condition.

Ward helped his team stay in front. He was surprisingly unflappable following his performance Saturday, even after Gionta’s early goal on New Jersey’s first shot. Zach Parise chased down the puck in the corner, and his whirling shot bounced off the knees of Carolina defenseman Mike Commodore.

It skittered to Gionta, who controlled it with his skate before lifting the puck over Ward’s shoulder into the back of the net. The goal ended a four-game pointless streak for Gionta, the worst stretch of the season for the Devils’ leading scorer.

Notes: New Jersey D Colin White, who missed five games with a groin injury before playing in the final three of this series, finished without a point in four games in the postseason. … Referee Mike Leggo made an interesting call late in the first period, stopping play even though the puck was loose beside Brodeur. The goalie was prone on his back, and Cullen was furiously poking at the puck when the whistle blew. With about 2 minutes left in the game, the lights went out briefly. … Devils D Tommy Albelin, who will turn 42 next week, picked up the puck when the game ended – an indication he might retire.

AP-ES-05-14-06 2147EDT

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