-- If the Carolina Hurricanes
find a way to defeat the Boston Bruins
in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series on Thursday at TD Banknorth Garden, there's a good chance center Eric Staal
made a significant impact.
Not only did Carolina go 22-3-2 during the regular season when Staal scored a goal, but the club has won all seven of its games in the playoffs when he's scored at least once. Against Boston in the conference semifinals, Staal played a part in giving his team a 3-1 series lead with four goals, five points and a plus-2 rating in the opening four games.
In back-to-back losses, however, Staal has posted just one assist and a minus-3 rating. The Bruins, in fact, have outscored the Hurricanes, 8-2, in the last two games of this best-of-7 to even the series that concludes tonight (8 p.m. ET, VERSUS, TSN, RIS).
Carolina coach Paul Maurice
expects his power forward to come up big in yet another Stanley Cup Playoff Game 7.
"I don't think there's anything wrong with having pressure on your top-end guys," Maurice said. "Sure, we need offensive contributions from others but there's nothing wrong with pressure on your key guys; they get paid for it and there's a reason for that. From the time they were 5 years old, these are the games they live for. Staal has already been through this and he's risen to that level and he'll do it again."
Staal is excited to be playing in the fourth playoff Game 7 of his career -- his team defeated Buffalo in the 2006 Eastern Conference Finals before defeating Edmonton in seven games for the Cup. This season, Carolina eliminated the New Jersey Devils
in Game 7 on Staal's goal with just 32 seconds remaining in their opening-round matchup.
"Game 7s are what you dream of as a little kid," Staal said. "Playing in a Game 7 is a huge opportunity. You want to be the difference in games like these and I'm excited for the challenge and I'm sure our guys are too."
Can the 6-foot-4, 205-pound native of Thunder Bay, Ont., take anything from those previous Game 7s?
"I suppose if you stay with it, no matter what the circumstances, you always have a chance to win it," Staal said. "We got off to a 1-0 lead against New Jersey (in Game 7) and then battled back from 2-1 and 3-2 deficits. We just don't want to stray away from our game plan. That's the biggest thing this time of the year -- sticking with the game plan and never quitting."
Hurricanes wing Scott Walker
agreed with his alternate captain.
"You have to play your style and game and not worry about making a mistake," he said. "Worrying about mistakes will cost you in the end. Mistakes will happen, that's the game, but it's the team that can get that out of them that usually comes out on top. Sometimes, if you play tentative out there, you'll have a tendency to make more mistakes and that's something we don't want happening so we'll just play our game -- once you start becoming cautious, that's when you get away from your game."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com