Team Staal may have come up just a bit short in the end, but with everything else that happened during All-Star Weekend, no one left disappointed.
Eric Staal scored two goals during the 2011 All-Star Game in Raleigh, but his squad featuring Hurricanes teammates Cam Ward and Jeff Skinner ultimately dropped a tight 11-10 decision to Team Lidstrom on Sunday, concluding a packed three days that featured the first-ever All-Star fantasy draft on Friday and the SuperSkills competition on Saturday.
Even though Staal couldn’t make it a clean sweep after drafting the players he wanted and taking a relatively easy win in the skills event, he and his teammates couldn’t help but be excited about how the entire weekend unfolded in their home city.
“It was incredible,” said Staal.
“It was good for fans from out of town to see what hockey is like in the south, and I think they’ll go back home with a different perspective of Raleigh,” said Ward. "We're blessed that we get to play here every day."
Staal’s first goal to tie the game at 7-7 early in the third period against Tim Thomas kept the Hurricanes’ captain’s scoring streak alive, as he has now scored at least once in all four of his All-Star appearances. He has six total goals over that span, having also scored twice in Atlanta back in 2008 when he took home the game’s MVP award.
In 2011, that honor went to teammate Patrick Sharp, who recorded 1 goal and 2 assists in the losing effort. Other candidates were Staal, Shea Weber, who had 4 assists, and rival captain Nicklas Lidstrom, who recorded just a single assist but posted a gaudy plus/minus rating.
“He picked the winning team and was +7,” said Staal. “That’s a pretty good night for Nick Lidstrom.”
Ward started the game in net and was perfect through the game’s first 10:50 as Team Staal took a quick 4-0 lead beginning with Alex Ovechkin’s tally just 50 seconds in. However, Team Lidstrom got its act together, tying the game at 4-4 heading into the first intermission.
“I thought I was doing good in the first 10 minutes and was thinking, ‘This isn’t so bad,’ and then boom, four goals against,” said Ward, who finished with 10 saves.
“We got complacent, I’m not going to lie to you,” said Staal of his team giving up the early lead. “I’ll take the brunt of it, and leave some for (coach Joel) Quenneville too.”
The 18-year-old Skinner recorded an assist on Kris Letang’s goal in the third period for his only point of the night, having been stymied on several good chances. He hit a post in the first period and missed an open net in the second, with Lidstrom goalie Jonas Hiller his main source of his frustration.
“Paul (Stastny) and Patrik (Elias), my linemates, were trying to get the puck to me all night,” acknowledged Skinner. “It was unfortunate that I didn't get one in, but it was fun."
The same could be said of Staal through the first two periods, as he himself had several good chances that didn’t fall until he finally broke through in the third, including a clear breakaway on his first shift that was stopped by Marc-Andre Fleury and a shot that was stopped by Hiller in the second.
“I could feel that they were ready to cheer if me and Skins would finally put one in the net,” said Staal.
Staal’s second goal nearly set the stage for an improbable comeback, as it came just 37 seconds after Lidstrom’s Loui Eriksson had appeared to ice the game with an empty-net goal that made the score 11-9. Staal was then able to get another one by Thomas on a shot through traffic with 34 seconds remaining, but Skinner’s line couldn’t quite get the equalizer as time expired.
“We came up a little bit short, but it was fun overall,” said Staal.
It would seem that Staal wasn’t the only one who had a good time, with thousands of fans from all over the world descending on Raleigh for events including All-Star Wide Open and Fan Fair downtown and countless other appearances and parties, culminating with a traditional Carolina tailgate prior to the main attraction.
“I’m very proud of our fans and how they showed support for this event,” said Staal.