RALEIGH, N.C. -- Pittsburgh's Jordan Staal
sat in the cramped visitors' dressing room at the RBC Center smiling the smile reserved only for winners at this point in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
But that smile, as big as it was, didn't quite meet his eyes. Perhaps because his thoughts were partially on the scene going on in the home dressing room -- where his older brother, Eric, was trying to digest the sudden and painful end to his season; a season that ended with Tuesday night's 4-1 victory by Jordan's Penguins in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
"It's tough to end your brother's season," Jordan said quietly.
While it may have been tough, Jordan Staal
still did what was necessary to make it happen.
For the first two games in Pittsburgh, Jordan was on the ice almost every time Carolina sent Eric over the boards. When the teams left for Carolina, Eric had no goals, one assist and an ugly minus-3.
In the final two games, the match-up between brothers was not as prevalent because Carolina coach Paul Maurice used the right of last change to get Eric, his leading scorer, away from the clutches of Jordan.
But Eric didn't fare much better. He went without a point in Game 3 and was minus-3 in a demoralizing 7-4 loss. Suddenly, questions were being asked about Eric Staal and his effectiveness, an inquisition that made Jordan clearly uncomfortable.
Eric was better in Game 4. He scored Carolina's only goal, just 96 seconds into the game. In case you were wondering, Jordan Staal
was not on the ice for it. Eric was Carolina's best player all night, firing five shots and playing a whopping 22:30.
When the game was over, the two brothers met at center ice in the handshake line that is one of hockey's finest and most enduring traditions. The brothers embraced and exchanged words before moving off in opposite directions -- Jordan to a date with the Stanley Cup Final, and Eric to a summer of what ifs.
"He just said good luck and we'll get it next year," Jordan said of the exchange.
The "it," of course, is a berth in the Stanley Cup Final. Eric led Carolina to one in 2006. Jordan fell two victories short last year and now gets another chance at it this spring. Now that the family's civil war is finally over, the first hockey family of Thunder Bay, Ontario, can once again become united behind the quest to bring the Stanley Cup back to the Staal homestead.