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Conference Final

Staal leadership key for Hurricanes against Bruins in Eastern Final

Center playing pivotal role in first trip to postseason since 2012

by Shawn P. Roarke @sroarke_nhl / NHL.com Senior Director of Editorial

The Carolina Hurricanes are going to need the best from each player to come back from down 2-0 to the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Final.

It's a good thing they have Jordan Staal on their side.

"I relish trying to win games," Staal said when asked at the start of the best-of-7 series about his role as a shut-down center.

 

[RELATED: Complete Bruins vs. Hurricanes series coverage]

 

After losing the first two games in Boston, the Hurricanes have to win four of the next five games to advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2006.

Game 3 is at Carolina on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).

Since the conference format was adopted for the 1981-82 season, teams that take a 2-0 lead in the conference finals have a series record of 30-2 (.938).

Staal's fingerprints have been all over this series so far, both good and bad.

Video: Bruins rout Hurricanes to take 2-0 lead in ECF

He had an assist on Carolina's first goal of Game 1, setting up Sebastian Aho to tie the game.

But his boarding penalty 49 seconds into the third period led to a power-play goal by Marcus Johansson at 2:26 that was the first of four straight goals by the Bruins in their 5-2 victory. Staal admitted the penalty ate at him during the two days off between Game 1 and Game 2.

"If we kill it off and go on to win the game, it is what it is," Staal said Sunday. "They get a big goal out of it, get the momentum, and take over the game. I've been trying to let it go. ... It wasn't my greatest play in these playoffs."

There have been several great plays for Staal in the first two rounds. He scored the game-tying goal in the third period of Game 7 against the Washington Capitals in the first round and scored in overtime in Game 1 against the New York Islanders in the second round.

Those kinds of plays have been harder to come by this series.

Staal has been on the ice for two of the Bruins' four power-play goals and was in the penalty box for a third. But he also has helped hold the Bruins' top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak to a combined one assist at 5-on-5 in the first two games.

Video: CAR@BOS, Gm2: Brind'Amour speaks on Game 2 loss

He should be even more effective in the shut-down role in the next two games when Carolina, as the home team, will have the final line change at each stoppage and should be able to get the matchups coach Rod Brind'Amour wants.

Brind'Amour knows he can count on Staal. He has coached him, first as an assistant, since Staal arrived in a trade from the Pittsburgh Penguins on June 22, 2012. This season, in his first as coach, Brind'Amour watched Staal re-emerge as a go-to player late in the season and develop into a bull in the postseason.

Nobody is more focused on the Hurricanes, nobody wants it more, and nobody is ready to step up in the most trying of circumstances, Brind'Amour said.

"What makes him such a special player and what hurts him is exactly that he cares too much," Brind'Amour said. "You can't care too much, but he does. He'll take a shift that everyone else won't even think about, that looks normal, that he thinks was bad, and it eats him up. … That's the kind of person he is. He wants us to win so bad, that's everything he cares about. You can't have enough of people like that around."

The drive always has been there.

Selected by the Penguins with the No. 2 pick in the 2006 NHL Draft, Staal scored an NHL career-high 29 goals as a rookie in 2006-07 and developed into the perfect third-line center behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

He made the playoffs in each of his first six NHL seasons, including nine points (five goals, four assists) in 24 games to help the Penguins win the Stanley Cup in 2009. But this is the first time he's been to the postseason with the Hurricanes.

Staal was a major piece to that playoff push. He had 17 points (six goals, 11 assists) in his final 21 regular-season games and has built on that with 10 points (four goals, six assists) in 13 playoff games.

His revitalization in the pressure games of the stretch run and the playoffs has been unmistakable, teammates say. They expect even more now.

"I think there was a little void in Jordan, and I think it was playoff hockey," Hurricanes captain Justin Williams said. "I'm seeing it firsthand, how much it means to him. To have it taken away for that amount of time and to be as competitive as he is and (to have) a will to win as deep as his is, to not be able to play for the ultimate trophy is tough.

"Certainly when playoffs have started, I have seen the fire come out of him even more. If you can just iso-cam him when he is out there, there isn't many things he does wrong. He is a horse, and I find it a privilege to play with him every time I am out there. There is a fire in him, and that ain't going to go away."

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