NEWARK, N.J. — Canes coach Paul Maurice seemed to have that feeling. So did Eric Staal.
While nothing had been determined after the Canes' 3-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Saturday afternoon, and it was still possible Carolina could finish fifth in the Eastern Conference, there appeared to be a sense that the Hurricanes would be back in the Prudential Center this week for the opening round of the playoffs.
"It very well could be," Staal said.
Asked if he thought it would be the Canes and Devils in the opening round, Maurice said, "Yeah, I would think so. That looks like the way it's going to play out."
And it did. The Pittsburgh Penguins won 3-1 in Montreal on Saturday night, taking the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference away from Carolina and pushing the Canes into sixth versus the third-seeded Devils.
The opening-round series will begin either Wednesday or Thursday, with the playoff schedule set after Sunday's final regular-season games.
The Canes took the first three games against the Devils this season before Saturday's loss. In the only game in which Cam Ward was in goal for the Canes and Martin Brodeur for the Devils, Carolina won 2-1 — two weeks ago Saturday at the Prudential Center.
"We know we can win in this building," Staal said.
Backup Michael Leighton was in goal for the Canes Saturday and the Devils' first two goals came on ridiculously fortunate bounces — the puck hitting the back board on the first, then the glass on the second, and the heavy caroms leaving Devils with an open net as Leighton was caught behind his goal looking to make a play.
"You see that happen once in a blue moon," Leighton said. "Just bad luck."
Leighton, in his first start since Feb. 5, said he felt good — the nerves were fine — but that he was a little rusty playing the puck.
"Any time I went behind the net I felt I was a step behind," he said. "Obviously that's just the comfort zone of not playing that much."
The Canes and Devils have hooked up in the playoffs in 2001, 2002 and 2006. The Devils won the first series, but the Canes took the next two, reaching the Stanley Cup finals each year and claiming the Cup in 2006.
New Jersey, the Atlantic Division winner, has won four its last five games after going 0-5-1 in a mini-slump. The first two games of the playoff series will be at "The Rock."
"This is a team we're going to have to find ways to win no matter what happens as far as the bounces go," Staal said.