Ruutu scored with 6:30 to play to snap a tie, and the Devils earned a 5-4 victory after squandering a three-goal lead Saturday night.
"We were actually taking about that, just how that works," linemate Travis Zajac said of Ruutu's winner. "You get traded and somehow you come away with the winning goal. But like I said, he was on the puck all night. He played with a lot of jump."
Not bad for a guy who has a lot on his mind. Not only did Ruutu have to move, he had to leave his pregnant wife in North Carolina.
"This was nerve wracking, but it's fun when you win," said Ruutu, who was acquired for center Andrei Loktionov on Wednesday. "When it goes the other way, it's not fun at all. We can learn from this game but the most important thing is the two points."
New Jersey has won four of six games since the Olympic break, leaving the Devils two points behind Detroit for eighth place in the Eastern Conference. New Jersey has 17 games left in the regular season.
"We just have to keep doing that and give ourselves a chance to stay with the pack," Devils coach Pete DeBoer said.
Red-hot Adam Henrique added two more goals, and Zajac and Damien Brunner had the others as the usually defensive-minded Devils had another lax game in their own end. They have given up 11 goals in the last two games.
Jeff Skinner, Jay Harrison, Nathan Gerbe and Alexander Semin scored for Carolina, which has lost seven of eight. Gerbe and Semin tallied in the third period to make it 4-4.
"We did a good job of getting back in the game but unfortunately we came up short," Hurricanes defenseman Ryan Murphy said.
Ruutu scored the game winner with a shot from between the circles that was set up by an outstanding play by defenseman Marek Zidlicky.
Zidlicky controlled the puck and then found Ruutu coming down the middle of the ice. His shot beat goalie Cam Ward for his sixth goal of the season.
"It's obviously something special to get the win," Ruutu said. "I will try to enjoy it tonight but we need some more wins."
Semin had tied it 51 seconds earlier with a spin-around shot from between the circles after singlehandedly beating four Devils in the zone.
Gerbe had made it a one-goal game with a short-handed breakaway goal early in the period, scoring on Martin Brodeur, who made 29 saves.
The Devils seemed in command after Henrique capped a big three-goal second period with his 22nd and 23rd tallies of the season for a 4-2 lead. He has nine goals in six games since the Olympic break.
The Devils scored three times in 4:17 after Skinner tied the game with a shot that deflected off the elbow of New Jersey defenseman Mark Fayne at 6:21 of the second period.
It was Skinner's 25th of the season, but the Hurricanes didn't enjoy the moment long.
Just 1:21 later, Patrick Dwyer was called for holding defenseman Bryce Salavador. The Devils then took the lead with the aid of a lucky bounce.
Zidlicky missed the net with a slap shot. The puck came off the end boards at a weird angle, and Brunner gathered it low in the left circle and backhanded a shot into an open net with Anton Khudobin caught off-guard.
The goal hadn't even been announced when Carolina defenseman Mike Komisarek had a puck bounce over his stick at center ice, setting up a 2-on-none break. Ryane Clowe gave the puck to Henrique, and he easily beat Khudobin with another backhander.
Henrique made it 4-1 a little more than four minutes later with a short-handed goal. Patrik Elias carried the puck into the Carolina zone and dropped a pass to Henrique, who fired a shot into the upper corner of the net, chasing Khudobin, who made a season-high 40 saves on Friday night in a loss to the Rangers.
Less than 30 seconds after Henrique's short-handed goal, Harrison converted on the same power play with his fourth of the season.
Gerbe closed the gap to a goal with a short-handed tally early in the third period and then Semin set things up for Ruutu to be a hero.
Carolina D Justin Faulk missed his third straight game because of an upper-body injury. ... Brunner's goal was his first in 12 games and 10th of the season. ... Ruutu set up Zajac's opening goal with a nice pass across the goal crease. Zajac also had two assists. ..Murphy played a game high 26:51 for Carolina.