- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 11, 2009

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - Dainius Zubrus scored with 4:26 to play and the New Jersey Devils took advantage of some favorable bounces to beat the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 on Saturday in a possible preview of a first-round playoff series.

David Clarkson and Zach Parise also scored for the Devils, who won four of their last five games after enduring a season-high six-game losing streak.

Anton Babchuk scored two power-play goals for the Hurricanes, who gave star goaltender Cam Ward the last day of the regular season off after 28 straight starts.

Michael Leighton had 32 saves in filling in for Ward, but he made a bad clearing play on the game-winner by Zubrus and also was embarrassed when two bad bounces led to open-net goals in the first period.

The loss was the second straight for Carolina, which will have to wait to find out its opening-round opponent. If Philadelphia wins its last two games this weekend, and Pittsburgh beats Montreal on Saturday night, the Hurricanes will be the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference and will face the Devils, the No. 3 seed.

Leighton was making his first start since Feb. 5. On the game-winner, Brian Gionta intercepted his pass and found Zubrus in front for a shot into a wide-open net.

A couple of fluke bounces also caught Leighton out of position behind the net on the goals by Clarkson and Parise.

Brian Rolston sent an innocent pass into the Hurricanes’ zone in the opening minutes and Leighton went behind his net to play the puck. But it hit something as it wrapped around the boards and came out in front to Clarkson for a shot into an open net for a 1-0 lead at 2:52.

Babchuk, whose booming shots from the points have resulted in 12 goals in his last 24 games, tied the score a little less than four minutes later when his slapshot seemed to deflect off defenseman Johnny Oduyda and beat Martin Brodeur, who had 23 saves.

Another crazy bounce gave New Jersey a 2-1 lead at 11:57.

With Carolina about to be called for a goaltender interference penalty, New Jersey defenseman Niklas Havelid sent a hard dump-in into the same corner where Rolston had earlier shot the puck on Clarkson’s goal.

Leighton again went behind his net to play the puck and again it hit something on the end boards and caromed across the mouth of the open goal. Carolina defenseman Joe Corvo seemed to touch the puck, but did not control it, which could have brought the whistle for the delayed penalty. Parise then poked Corvo’s stick and the puck slid into the net for his 45th goal of the season.

Babchuk tied the game with another hard shot from the point in the third period.

Ward got his first day off since Feb. 7. He posted a 19-7-2 record in the run and led the Hurricanes to the playoffs. He had a 2.30 goals against average, a .922 save percentage and three shutouts in the span.

NOTES:@ Havelid returned to the lineup after missing three games with an upper body injury. … Veteran Devils C Bobby Holik was a healthy scratch for the second straight game. … NASCAR driver Ryan Newman attended the game.

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