WINNIPEG – On a night when Eric Staal took his turn as the object of scorn among Winnipeg fans, the Carolina Hurricanes’ dressing room countered with ample praise for its captain.
Staal saved the best work of his two-goal, one-assist performance for the third period of the Hurricanes’ 4-3 come-from-behind victory against the Winnipeg Jets. Staal’s breakaway goal midway through the final period tied the game at 3-3 and he then set up Chad LaRose’s game-winner with 1:22 remaining. The win was the third time this season that Carolina has taken two points after trailing at the second intermission.
Afterward, Staal’s teammates jokingly chanted “Jordan’s better!” in reference to a chant that Jets fans unleashed comparing Staal to his brother, Jordan Staal of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Staal’s good-natured retort to the crowd?
“I mean, Jordan’s good, but I don’t know if he is better,” Staal replied.
Staal has rebounded from a dismal start that plagued both him and the Hurricanes, led to Paul Maurice’s firing and buried the club at the bottom of the Eastern Conference for much of the season. Staal had managed just nine goals by the 40-game mark. But Staal spun off a 12-game point streak for the Hurricanes in the season’s second half and helped power the club back into semi-contention.
“He has taken this team and has been an unbelievable leader,” Carolina coach Kirk Muller said. “Everybody talks about his start, but I think that people should talk about how he has played his last 40 games.”
Goaltender Cam Ward, who won a Stanley Cup alongside Staal in 2006, agreed with Muller.
“It was a huge win for us,” Ward said. “We were led by Staal, who took the game up on his shoulders and was dominant.”
Now the Hurricanes have moved to 11th place in the Eastern Conference and are only three points behind the Jets and five points behind the Washington Capitals for eighth place. While the club’s poor first half may ultimately doom any Stanley Cup Playoff aspirations, the Hurricanes are, if nothing else, making themselves a relevant player again in postseason conversation.
“We’ll take [the win],” Staal said, “and keep working, because stranger things have happened, and we’re going to keep playing hard.”