Category 5: Hurricanes can punch ticket to Eastern Conference finals in Game 5

Carolina firward Martin Necas congratulates Frederik Andersen after the Hurricanes defeated the Devils 6-1 in Tuesday’s Game 4 of their second round playoff series in Newark, New Jersey. The Hurricanes have a 3-1 series lead. (Adam Hunger / AP Photo)

RALEIGH — For the second straight series, the Hurricanes have a chance to close out an opponent at home when they host the Devils at PNC Arena for Game 5 on Thursday with a 3-1 lead.

1. The Hurricanes will seemingly use the same lineup that helped them win Game 4 6-1 in Newark. The only difference will be Antti Raanta is ready to return as Frederik Andersen’s backup after not dressing for the last three games due to illness.

“I’ll just go with yes,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said when asked if Raanta will be available for Game 5.

In each of the series’ first four games, a goalie has been pulled. Devils rookie Akira Schmid was chased in Games 1 and 2 in Raleigh, Andersen exited Game 3 in Newark, and Vitek Vanecek was yanked after allowing five goals in Game 4.

Andersen will seemingly make his sixth straight start.

2. Who the Devils will have in net is a little more up in the air.

The odds-on favorite is Schmid, who lifted New Jersey to a Round 1 win over the Rangers in seven games. Things haven’t gone so well for Schmid against the Hurricanes: He’s allowed eight goals on 48 shots (.833 save percentage) in his three appearances this series and has a goals-against average of 5.40.

Vanecek has been just as bad. He’s given up 12 goals on 68 shots (.824) with a 4.81 goals-against average.

That’s led to rumbles from both Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and ESPN’s P.K. Subban — who played for the Devils the previous three seasons before retiring — that New Jersey could throw caution to the wind and start former No. 1 Mackenzie Blackwood on Thursday. The 26-year-old got just 20 starts during the regular season and struggled for the second straight year, losing the job to Vanecek and then tumbling to third on the depth chart.

It’s been nearly a month since he’s played — a 5-4 overtime win at Washington on April 13 in which he was pulled after allowing four goals on 11 shots. Schmid came on in relief, stopped all 20 shots he faced and secured the No. 2 job.

Blackwood has played well against the Hurricanes in his career, going 2-0-1 in four appearances with a .932 save percentage and 2.34 goals-against average. This season against Carolina, Blackwood made 43 saves in a 4-3 shootout loss on New Year’s Day and came on in relief Dec. 20 in a 4-1 Hurricanes win, stopping six of seven.

His wins against Carolina date to before the pandemic — a 5-3 Devils win on Nov. 2, 2019, and a 37-save shutout in his third career start, a 2-0 win on Dec. 29, 2018. Only four other Devils playing in this series were in the lineup for New Jersey that night, as was current Hurricanes forward Stefan Noesen.

3. Martin Necas might be starting to heat up. After one goal and two assists in the six-game Islanders series, he has scored three times in the past three games.

He didn’t score in Game 4 but certainly had his chances.

Necas hit the post twice in Sunday’s 8-4 loss, including five minutes into the game with the score 0-0.

“Maybe it’ll be a different game if I scored the first goal of Game 3,” he said after Thursday’s morning skate. “And then we’d be winning and we’d be up 1-nothing.”

Necas said he “wasn’t really feeling any pressure” to score in Game 4.

“If you’re down 2-1 or 3-1 (in the series) and I wouldn’t have scored, I would say it would be pressure,” he said. “If you’re winning, I don’t really care who scores.”

He still came up with two pivotal goals in Game 4, tying the score late in the first period and then getting the game-winner 7:26 into the second, the first of five goals the Hurricanes scored in the middle frame.

Both goals came with Necas driving the net and connecting on passes from teammates that had been deflected by Devils’ defensemen.

“I always like to handle the puck,” Necas said before Game 5. “But if it’s not there, it’s nice to get the one touch and you just don’t have to think about it just find an open space.”

4. Carolina has scored four or more goals in each of the games in this series, totaling 21 in all. The Hurricanes had four consecutive games with four-plus goals twice during the regular season: Jan. 27-Feb. 1 they had wins against the Sharks, Bruins, Kings and at Buffalo (total of 19 goals); and Feb. 16-24 at home against the Canadiens, Capitals, Blues and Senators (18 goals).

Can Carolina’s offense keep rolling? Entering Game 5, the Hurricanes are tied with Dallas for the second most goals per game among the remaining playoff teams at 3.70, trailing only Edmonton’s 3.90. Carolina, however, has far and away the best goal differential of the postseason, 1.10, and Dallas’ 3.10 goals-against average is a half goal more than the Hurricanes’ 2.60. They’re also tops in shots allowed at 27.7.

5. Some more postseason stats worth throwing out there:

  • The Hurricanes’ penalty kill is a leagues-best 93.1%.
  • Their power play, at 17.1%, is 11th among playoffs teams.
  • Carolina has won just 47.7% of its faceoffs, 12th in the playoffs, after ranking fifth in the regular season at 52.9%.
  • The Hurricanes have eight players with three or more goals, the most of any playoff team. Toronto, Dallas and Edmonton all have six, while New Jersey ranks last among remaining playoff teams with three.
  • Carolina also has the most players with five or more points with 11. Florida is second with 10, while Toronto ranks last among the final eight teams with six.
  • Jaccob Slavin’s plus-13 plus/minus is tops in the postseason, with the Leafs’ Morgan Rielly second at plus-10. New Jersey’s Dougie Hamilton is a league-worst minus-9, including minus-8 in four games against Carolina.
  • Jordan Martinook is averaging 16:36 per game, the most minutes he’s averaged in any regular season or playoffs. His previous playoff high was 14:08 in 2021, and he averaged 15:41 with Arizona in the 2016-17 regular season. His penalty shot goal in Game 4 was the first attempt of his career.
  • Brett Pesce has not taken a minor penalty in this postseason, one of three defensemen to have played at least nine playoff games without having been called for a two-minute infraction. The Devils’ John Marino and the Kraken’s Justin Schultz are the others. Pesce, along with three other players, did receive a 10-minute misconduct in the final seconds of Game 3 against the Islanders in the first round.
  • Andersen was spared the loss in Game 3 — since he allowed four goals and Carolina wound up scoring that many, it was Pyotr Kochetkov who got the L. Therefore, Andersen is a perfect 4-0 in the postseason, having allowed just one goal in each of his four decisions.
  • Seth Jarvis has a team-high 33 hits this postseason, ranking tied for 20th in the league. Brady Skjei is one behind with 32.
  • Sebastian Aho is one of seven players to hit iron three times this postseason, hitting the post twice and the crossbar once.