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'Canes rally to beat Leafs 4-3 in OT

by Kurt Dusterberg
RALEIGH -- For 38 games, Carolina center Eric Staal struggled mightily. Then his brother — Pittsburgh center Jordan Staal — chalked up an assist.

When Eric registered his sixth straight game without a point Tuesday night against Jordan's Penguins, the younger brother offered some postgame advice.
"He was the first one telling me, 'Just start shooting from everywhere," Eric Staal said. "Make it ugly.'"

The Hurricanes captain heeded the first part of that advice, firing five shots against Toronto Thursday night. But his two goals — a breakaway and an overtime one-timer — were a sight to behold for Stall, and Hurricanes fans, as Carolina registered a 4-3 win at the RBC Center.

Staal also added an assist on the game-tying goal by Zac Dalpe, as the Hurricanes overcame a 3-1 third-period deficit.

Staal had been mired in a season-long slump, with just 20 points and a -22 plus/minus rating entering Thursday night's game. So in the hours before facing Toronto, Staal was focused on Jordan's advice.

"I talked to him on the way to the rink tonight," Staal explained. "I said, 'I'll be firing it from all angles and we'll see what happens.' When you get that first one, you get some confidence."

His first goal came with the game slipping away in the third period. Nikolai Kulemin had given Toronto a 2-1 lead at 6:36 of the third when he finished the rebound of a Darryl Boyce shot. Then Joffrey Lupul extended the lead to 3-1 on a puck that deflected in front of Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward, who stopped 21 shots.

That's when Dalpe sprung Staal with a lead pass from the boards that the captain slipped between the pads of Toronto goaltender James Reimer at 9:48.

Back within a goal, Carolina found some life. Dalpe, scoreless through three call-ups this season, tied the game with his fourth career goal, roofing a backhander of a Jiri Tlusty slot.

"I'd like to tell you I had it backhand the whole time, but it's one of those plays where it's a last resort," said Dalpe. "It's just instinct. When the puck's around the net, you get hungry."

Dalpe's contribution may have been as welcome as Staal's. The Hurricanes consider Dalpe the top prospect in the organization, a player with well-rounded offensive skills. But after 10 NHL games this season, he was still searching for his first point.

"Ten games without a point, obviously I'm a guy that likes to get points," he said. "But that's the beauty of sticking with it and staying positive. There's a lot more work to be done, so a little bit of confidence each game, and hopefully it adds up."

Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller was especially pleased that Dalpe had shaken off a difficult night against the Penguins. Dalpe had already started his Christmas break with the American Hockey Leaugue's Charlotte Checkers, only to be thrown onto Staal's line Tuesday night.

"(Dalpe's) a goal scorer, and it's a big step and a big adjustment for him," said Muller. "He found the knack. That's what they do, goal scorers. They find the right time to bury it. That was a big goal for us."

The Toronto loss was the second in a row after a 5-3 decision at Florida on Tuesday. It didn't sit well with Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson.

"I know we know how to defend a lead, and yet we didn't," Wilson said. "So that's something that we're going to have to address in practice again tomorrow."

The Toronto coach was critical of his top line, which has been among the most productive in the NHL all season. Joffrey Lupul registered four shots, but Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel did not manage any.

"They didn't have a very good game tonight," he said. "A lot of turnovers in our zone, so our wings need to play better. It's just one of those nights that happens."

Hurricanes center Brandon Sutter played a role in frustrating Toronto's top line, making several smart defensive plays as well as winning 12 of 17 faceoffs. Sutter scored the first goal of the game when he beat Reimer over the glove for his eighth of the season.

"It was all about our leadership tonight — Brandon Sutter, Staal, Ward in the nets," said Muller. "I thought they had great games, battling to the end, fighting through the adversity like we talked about. When your leaders play like that, there's nothing better."

And the best part for Muller was seeing his captain be a difference maker.

"I thought Staal was the best player on the ice tonight," he said. "You talk to him and tell him to do the right things, and the end result will kick in somewhere. It was great that it happened tonight because it was a big load off him. I know it's just one game, but that's a huge game mentally for him."
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