When you look at the resume Eric Staal
has already compiled, it's hard to believe it's been less than six years since he played his first NHL game.
The second overall pick in the 2003 Entry Draft, the 24-year-old Staal already has become the toast of the town in Raleigh, N.C. With Staal's help, Raleigh has become a hockey hotbed -- one that had reason to celebrate Tuesday night after Staal broke a 3-3 tie with just 31.7 seconds to go in an improbable 4-3 victory against the New Jersey Devils
in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal at the Prudential Center.
Despite his youth, Staal is just a dozen wins away from his second Stanley Cup championship. He first one came in 2006, when he and the Hurricanes won a dramatic seven-game series against the Edmonton Oilers
Obviously, the 'Canes still have a ways to go this postseason in order to claim the Cup, but with a superstar as their No. 1 center -- Staal had 40 goals during the regular season and already has 164 in his career -- the Hurricanes can certainly play with anybody. The Devils just learned that the hard way.
"That's what your best player has to do," said teammate Jussi Jokinen
, who tied Tuesday's game with 1:20 remaining. "He was the best player in the series, and he outplayed their best players. I think that was the difference in this series."
In the end, it just provided the fans in Carolina with another reason to adore No. 12. He may not be the captain -- veteran Rod Brind'Amour
currently has that role -- but Staal is a leader for the Hurricanes. On Tuesday night, he showed the capacity crowd in New Jersey that he had no interest in participating in what would have been the third overtime of the series when he ripped a wrist shot past Martin Brodeur
Staal wanted to end it as soon as Chad LaRose
fed him the puck in the neutral zone.
And he did. That's what great players do. It was another reason why the fans in Carolina feel fortunate to have him on their side.
Contact Brian Compton at: firstname.lastname@example.org.