This Eastern Conference Semifinal series is more than just a showdown of Atlantic Division rivals.
It’s Penguins vs. Rangers, Pittsburgh vs. New York and Staal vs. Staal – a civil war featuring brothers Jordan Staal of Pittsburgh and New York’s Marc Staal.
The two products of Thunder Bay, Ontario, met on the NHL stage for the first time this year when the Penguins and Rangers battled in eight conference games. Now, they are going at it once again in the postseason.
“It’s a lot higher of a stage than in the regular season and a lot more is on the line, so it makes it that much more interesting,” Marc said. “I am looking forward to these games; they should be fun.”
Jordan agrees and knows the competitive juices will be flowing.
“It’s a little different. Obviously, no brother wants to lose to the other brother,” he said. “It makes it that much more intense, I think.”
Both brothers are first-round draft choices. Marc, 21, was selected 12th overall in 2005, while Jordan, only 19, went second overall in 2006. However, many assume Jordan is older since he broke into the NHL first with the Penguins last year.
“When I first was in New York this season and we played Pittsburgh, everyone kind of thought I was younger than he was. I set that straight,” Marc said with a laugh. “But, a lot of people make that mistake since he jumped into the NHL earlier than I did.”
Jordan surprised many by finishing with 29 goals a year ago and established an NHL rookie record with seven shorthanded goals. That earned him a spot among the finalists for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year, which was won by teammate Evgeni Malkin.
“I don’t know if it was strange to see him in the NHL. I knew he had the size and skill set to make it,” Marc said. “I was kind of surprised when he scored 29 goals. He is a great player, though.”
Jordan, who played mainly wing last season, was moved to his natural position of center this year. Anchoring the team’s third line, he’s developed into a solid two-way presence for the Penguins.
“I feel comfortable there. It’s a whole new game playing that position,” he said. “You have a lot more responsibility and have to do your job well if you want to win. Personally, I think I have done well adjusting to it and I want to keep getting better.
“I have been put in that role [of shutdown center] and I think I’ve done a pretty decent job of it,” he continued. “I feel comfortable on both sides of the puck. I feel that it’s important to be on the defensive side of the game and, obviously, score some goals, too. That’s the job I want to do and I hope I can do it.”
Jordan finished the year with 28 points (12+16), down from the 42 (29+13) he had a year ago, but Penguins coach Michel Therrien has been pleased with Jordan’s progression in his new role.
“For him, sometimes he’ll get frustrated by not scoring goals. It’s normal. Everyone wants to get rewarded and everyone wants to feel good about themselves,” Therrien said. “Last year he scored 29, so he was expecting more this year. For us, we were prepared for this. We were prepared for moving him from wing to center and we were prepared for him to score 10-15 goals. He did that and we’re really excited.
“Jordan has never been recognized as a guy who will score a lot of goals. In his last year of junior hockey, he scored 26 goals and his first year in the NHL, he scored 29 goals. That was a surprise for us,” he continued. “We can’t judge Jordan Staal by the amount of goals or assists he has. We know he’ll get there. Last year, he played more as a winger than a centerman. This year, it’s a new position. We want him to be that guy who is going to shut down the top players. So, we worked with him. It’s a process with him. You can’t forget he’s 19. We know he’s going to get better offensively. He’s going to get better at using his wingers more. He’s going to get better on faceoffs. That’s just part of the process. He’s doing a lot of good things like killing penalties. He’s so smart on the ice. He always has good positioning. His positioning has been great. He uses his stick really well. We like the way that that kid is developing.”
Meanwhile, Marc, a defenseman, has steadily progressed and assumed more responsibility with the Rangers.
“I think all year I have gotten better and tried to improve. It was great this year when I came in. The coaching staff was patient with me and kind of brought me along and let me figure things out on my own,” he said. “Every game, I feel more comfortable. To get that first round out of the way and the experience was nice. Hopefully, it keeps getting better.”
Likewise, Rangers coach Tom Renney has been pleased with Marc’s play.
|Marc Staal |
“With Marc, initially, we felt he would have a good chance of making our team, which he did. We also thought that we would ease him into various circumstances within the game as a five-on-five player and possibly some specialty teams and allow him to grow in what we thought would be a natural manner,” he said. “What happened very clearly at the beginning was that he could handle all of that early. The big thing for us was recognizing he had the poise and the proper temperament, I suppose, to deal with the NHL game and the various opponents in the Eastern Conference. He’s continued to mature from that point on. I think the sky is the limit for Marc. I think he’ll play this game for a long, long time because of his demeanor, skill and his intelligence on top of it.”
When the two brothers found out they’d be playing each other in the semifinals, they immediately contacted each other. But, since then, all contact has been halted since they are on opposing sides.
“When we found out we were playing each other, we gave each other a call and talked about it,” Marc said. “Other than that, it’s pretty much silence from here on out, I guess.”
Oldest brother Eric, who won a Stanley Cup with the Hurricanes two seasons ago, contacted both Jordan and Marc and will keep his eyes peeled on the series even though he’s playing for Team Canada at the World Championships/
“Yeah, he’s pretty excited to watch us,” Marc said. “I am sure he’ll be trying to get every game in he can while he is playing at the World Championships.”
However, their parents, Henry and Linda, won’t be in attendance as the two brothers duke it out for the right to go to the Eastern Conference Finals.
“They aren’t too excited about the series. It’s a little tough for them to watch,” Jordan said. “They know one of their sons will move on, so they’ll probably watch that series.”
“They’re staying home. They were thinking about coming, but then said it’d be too hard to sit in the stands and watch. They’re going to hide in the basement,” Marc added. “They both don’t like it very much that we’re playing against each other. My mom is worse; she hates it. My dad is a little more easygoing and he doesn’t mind it. He thinks it’s cool.”
A fourth Staal brother – Jared – could be on his way to the NHL, too. The 17-year-old winger had 49 points (21+28) in 60 games with the Sudbury Wolves in the OHL this season.