The New Jersey Devils (43-16-6) will aim to go level on points with Carolina Hurricanes (43-13-8) at the top of the Metropolitan Division at Prudential Centre on Monday.
Both are in good form with the Devils 7-2-1 in the last 10 games and the Hurricanes 7-3-0 which included a four-game winning streak.
|What||Carolina Hurricanes @ New Jersey Devils|
|Where||Prudential Centre, New Jersey|
|When||7:00pm, Sunday March 12th|
|How to watch||NHL.com/SN360, SNE, SNO, SNP, MSGSN, BSSO|
|Odds||Carolina Hurricanes -110, New Jersey Devils -110|
The Devils have made the playoffs just once since making the Final in 2012, but in recent years have used their high draft picks wisely to build themselves into a team who have genuine +900 Stanley Cup aspirations.
Their first overall pick in 2019, Jack Hughes, has led the charge with 36 goals and 76 points with Captain Nico Hischier (28 goals, 33 assists), Jesper Bratt (25 goals, 33 assists) and Dawson Mercer (22 goals, 27 assists) also producing well at an age under 24.
Blue-liner Dougie Hamilton, who is a veteran at 29, is second on the team for points with 62 (18 goals, 44 assists) and is a +5000 contender for the James Norris Trophy as defenseman of the year.
The Devils rank fourth in the NHL with an average of 3.54 goals per game and their goals allowed is sixth at an average of 2.68 per game.
The Hurricanes hired Rod Brind'Amour as Head Coach in 2018 on the back of nine seasons out of the playoffs.
Under his guidance, they have made the post-season four seasons straight and, while they are yet to get further than an Eastern Conference Final, their +750 odds to Win the Stanley Cup suggest a belief that he can deliver the organization its second championship which he first managed as Captain in 2006.
Martin Necas leads the Hurricanes with 60 points (25 goals, 35 assists) followed by Sebastien Aho (27 goals, 28 assists) and Andrei Svechnikov (23 goals, 32 assists), both at 50.
Like New Jersey, Carolina has a major threat from defense with off-season acquisition Brent Burns playing some of the best hockey of his long NHL career.
The 38-year-old has a team high 22 points in the last 20 games, adding to his 51 (12 goals, 39 assists) which ties Tony DeAngelo (2021/22; 10 goals, 41 assists) for the most points by a Hurricanes defenseman in a single season.
Carolina average 3.33 goals per game which ranks 11th in the NHL and they have conceded just 2.50 per game which is second best in the league.
The Hurricanes acquired defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere from Arizona Coyotes ahead of the trade deadline and, since his debut, the Hurricanes powerplay has gone 9/16 with the 29-year-old registering two goals, two assists on the man advantage.
His addition is a much-needed boost to a powerplay which has been inconsistent at times, converting at 21.7% over the season (15th).
The Devils' powerplay is just ahead at 21.9% (14th), with the main difference on special teams coming on the penalty-kill where the Hurricanes are an excellent 83.7% which is second in the league and the Devils 81.7% which is 10th.
New Jersey goalie Vitek Vanecek is 15-2-1 over his past 17 games, which has improved his season record to 27-7-3 with a .907 save percentage and 2.55 goals against average (GAA).
His signing in the off-season from Washington Capitals has been pivotal to the Devils' success and solved what has been a problem area for many seasons.
In goal for the Hurricanes, Antti Raana has suffered an injury which has seen Pyotr Kochetkov recalled from the AHL to partner Frederik Andersen.
Brind'Amour has spoken of his desire to rotate goalies to keep them fresh for the playoffs, and with Andersen suffering a 4-0 defeat to Vegas Golden Knights last time out, Kochetkov (11-4-5, .917 SVS% and 2.21 GAA) is likely to get the start against the Devils.
Whoever does, though, can be well trusted with the Hurricanes leading the NHL with eight shutouts this season.
Four have come from Kochetkov which ties him for second among all NHL goaltenders. In fact, no other NHL rookie netminder has more than one. All four of his shutouts have come over his last 18 starts and he is +5000 to Win the Calder Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year.