Staal looks to keep the Southeast Division-leading Hurricanes on a winning path when they host the Minnesota Wild on Thursday in the teams' lone meeting this season.
Carolina (35-29-5), which has won five of six and is 8-2-1 since Feb. 12, seeks to return to the postseason for the first time since winning the Stanley Cup in 2005-06. The Hurricanes have a three-point division lead over Washington.
Staal has helped contribute to that success, totaling six goals and 10 assists in his last 10 games after finishing without a point in his previous seven. He had another strong performance on Wednesday, tallying two goals and an assist in a 6-3 win at Atlanta.
"He's leading by example out there," coach Peter Laviolette said on the Hurricanes' official Web site. "I think when you're playing those minutes and your team is having success, you've got to look to a guy like that to set the tone and set the example, and he really hasn't missed a beat. He's been great."
Staal, the MVP of this year's All-Star game, leads the team with 33 goals and 64 points - six shy of the total he had in 82 games last season. His recent offensive surge has helped the Hurricanes overcome the absence of their other two 50-point scorers.
Left wing Ray Whitney, second on the team with 59 points, remains day-to-day with a groin injury, while captain Rod Brind'Amour (51) will miss the rest of the season with a torn left ACL.
"I'm just trying to bring it every night and bring my intensity and work ethic to every practice and every game," said Staal, the lone Hurricane to appear in each game this season. "I'm looked upon a little bit more in other situations with (Brind'Amour) out, so I'm just tying to bring that little extra."
|With 16 points in his last 10 games, Carolina Hurricanes center Eric Staal has powered his team's recent surge. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)|
Goaltender Cam Ward has done the same for the Hurricanes, improving to 5-1-0 with a 2.50 goals-against average in his last six games. On Wednesday, Ward made 21 saves while Scott Walker and Erik Cole each had a goal and an assist.
"Every two points are important," said Cole, who has three goals and two assists during a three-game point streak. "It doesn't matter whether it's a division game or not."
The Hurricanes face Minnesota (37-25-5) in the first of two straight games at the RBC Center, where Carolina is 8-1-1 in its last 10 contests. The teams have not met since the Wild posted a 5-4 home victory on Feb. 10, 2007.
In that defeat, Staal had a goal and two assists for the Hurricanes, who are 3-2-0 with two ties in the all-time series.
Minnesota had its three-game winning streak snapped with a 4-2 home loss to Chicago on Tuesday. Pavol Demitra and Stephane Veilleux scored for the Wild, who are tied with Calgary atop the Northwest Division.
A victory on Thursday would move them into sole possession of first place as Calgary is idle until Friday.
"It's frustrating," center Mikko Koivu told the Wild's official Web site. "At home when it's this tight in the standings, you need to get the wins and we're not doing that. We have to find the way, and it's not an excuse that we had the chances."
Minnesota didn't take advantage of any its four power-play opportunities, falling to 0-for-8 with the man advantage over its last two games.
Demitra had a goal and two assists against Carolina last February, giving him five goals and 16 points in 17 career meetings.