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Penguins' Staal shines in face of adversity

Friday, 05.16.2008 / 10:30 AM / 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer


Pittsburgh center Jordan Staal supplied all the offense the Penguins could generate against Jason Smith and the Flyers in Game 4, scoring two goals after dealing with a loss in his family.
Penguins-Flyers Game 4 highlights 
Jordan Staal's whirlwind 48 hours, which included a trip home to Thunder Bay, Ontario, for his paternal grandfather's funeral Wednesday and Thursday's Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals, didn't end the way he had hoped.

However, on a personal level, Staal did just about everything he could to thrive under the unfavorable circumstances.

A little more than 24 hours after burying his grandfather, who died Sunday, Staal scored two third-period goals. It wasn't enough, though, as Philadelphia held on for a 4-2 victory, aided by an empty-net goal by Joffrey Lupul with 33 seconds remaining.

Afterward, Staal's teammates were still in awe of what the 19-year-old, third-line center was able to accomplish in the face of such family adversity.

"For sure, it wasn't easy dealing with what happened this week, but he's a professional and he knows what it takes," Penguins forward Maxime Talbot said. "He showed it (Thursday night) because he played great."

Staal saw 19:31 of ice time Thursday, about five minutes more than he played Tuesday night in Game 3. He played only 13:01 in Game 2.

He had four shots on goal and won nine of his 15 faceoffs Thursday night. He was voted the third star of the game.

"You know, he battles adversity and shows he's a great kid," said wing Tyler Kennedy, who had the primary assist on both of Staal's goal. "He'll do anything to win."

Staal fought through some adversity during the regular season, too; but that was a result of what many perceived as a sophomore slump.

After scoring 29 goals, including seven shorthanded, registering 42 points and a plus-16 rating as an 18-year-old rookie last season, Staal's numbers dipped to 12 goals and 28 points this season. He didn't have a shorthanded goal, and was a minus-5.

"Jordan has been tremendous all year," Talbot countered. "He's been working hard. I love the guy. Maybe some people were saying he didn't have the numbers, but it's not all about the numbers. Jordan was there all season battling with us."

He was especially strong in the faceoff circle and on the penalty kill, two of Staal's prime areas of expertise, despite the fact that he's still the second-youngest player in the NHL.

Staal won nine of 15 faceoffs in Game 2 against the Flyers and a game-high 11 faceoffs in Game 1. Overall, he's won better than 50 percent of his draws.

Until surrendering two power-play goals Thursday night, the Penguins were also killing a remarkable 89.4 percent of power plays (42 of 47). Staal is averaging more shorthanded minutes than any other Penguins forward in the postseason, same as he did in the regular season.

"He's a great guy to have on your team," Kennedy said. "I have nothing but good things to say about him."

Staal benefited from one of the key moves made by coach Michel Therrien in Game 4. Therrien moved Talbot up to the third line to play with Staal and Kennedy, creating a speedy, checking, line that was hard to play against.

Staal's two goals were a direct result of the hard work that trio put in.

"(Therrien) always likes to mix it up, especially when we're behind," Staal said. "I think throughout the whole game, you know, we had a few chances and it just really clicked when we had us three out there. We just tried to keep it simple. We got pucks deep and worked down low, and we had a few opportunities after that."

It's unclear if that line will stay together for Game 5, but the Penguins have no doubts now where Staal's head is. Even in mourning, he's out there doing his job.

"Our opa was close to the whole family. He was an amazing man," Staal said before Game 4. "I'm back and ready to play, though. I missed the guys. I'm just focused on winning. This is what I love to do."

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com



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