Carolina Hurricanes center Eric Staal is gearing up for the media blitz about to explode on the eve of what is sure to be one of his stiffest tests.
That would be going head-to-head with his brother, Jordan, and the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals set to open Monday (Game 1, 7:30 p.m. ET, VERSUS, TSN, RDS).
While much attention has been placed on Penguins forwards Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, there's no denying Jordan Staal has played a vital role in the success of the Pens this postseason.
"We're both competitors," Eric said. "We're both looking forward to it. We both don't want to lose. You know, one of us is going to be moving on to the Stanley Cup Final and hopefully win that trophy, and that's the biggest thing. This is the best time of year to play hockey. When you're brothers playing against each other at this time of year in the Conference Finals, it's exciting not only for yourself but for the rest of your family, for sure."
So which Staal brother will have the bigger series?
"I'm due for a big game, a real big game," 24-year-old Eric said.
Jordan, 20, quickly chimed, "So am I. Huge game. I'm going to break out in the series like crazy (laughter)."
Oh, the gamesmanship. Can you stand it?
The Hurricanes and Penguins split the season series in 2008-09. In the most recent meeting on April 4 in Raleigh, Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward stopped 33 shots, including a breakaway by Crosby and a third-period penalty shot by Malkin in a 3-2 overtime victory. Carolina is 10-5-1 against the Pens since the start of the 2005-06 season.
Eric, the oldest of the three Staal brothers playing in the NHL, including defenseman Marc with the Rangers, has been looking forward to having an opportunity to play against one of his brothers in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"I wanted to play, you know, Marc or Jordan in the playoffs and this is the time of year that you want to play and be involved," Eric said. "Now we're in the Conference Finals against each other, an extremely big series. You know, the spotlight will be on. And it's a challenge but its fun."
Jordan, who has 2 goals, 5 points, 19 hits and a 51.2 faceoff winning percentage, echoes those sentiments.
"You know, personally you want to do well, you want your team to do well, but at the same time you want your family to do well," Jordan said. "We both couldn't have gone any farther without meeting each other, so that's obviously a good thing. Again, it's just so exciting to go out and play and just have that challenge. We're both really competitive and we both really want to win, so it will be a lot of fun."
Eric Staal, who has 18 goals and 41 points in 39 career playoff games, including 9 goals, 13 points this spring, feels his team just needs to continue to follow the prescribed game plan. Still, he might be seeing plenty of Jordan, who could very well be playing the shut-down role against Eric's line.
"I've been playing against a lot of the top lines last two series, so I'm sure Eric is right up there, so I might be matched up against him," Jordan said. "Who knows? Again, it's just another big challenge for myself, for my line and for my team. You know, it will make it that much more interesting."
One thing is certain, the Hurricanes have proven to be one of the most resilient groups in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this postseason -- they won't be intimidated by the defending Eastern Conference champion and, at this stage, players believe they can go the distance. Winning two Game 7s on late goals despite the elements facing a visiting team will do that for you.
"When our backs are against the wall, we respond," Eric Staal said.
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.