Mired in a miserable two-week stretch with just one assist in eight games, the All-Star MVP reclaimed his goal-scoring touch, notching his fifth career hat trick in
Maybe it took playing in front of
Ray Whitney sealed the win with two goals over the final 2:21, the last one coming on an empty-netter with Staal streaking into the zone looking for a career-best fourth tally.
Whitney, the team’s good-humor man, laughed when asked why he didn’t pass the puck to Staal for an easy one.
“He was behind me,” Whitney quipped. “When there is no goalie he’s going to have a hard time beating me up the ice to get to that. No, I didn’t know he was there. I certainly would have let him have four if I knew he was there.”
Just a week ago the Canes were frustrated by a three-game losing streak and Staal’s lack of scoring punch. Now, all that stands in the way of a four-game home winning streak is
“The best thing about Eric is he doesn’t get too high,” Whitney said. “He’ll come to the rink tomorrow and won’t be on cloud nine because of his hat trick, and over the last nine or 10 games he hasn’t been too down either.”
Staal, who finished with eight shots, tied the scored twice after Phoenix took one-goal leads, then gave the Canes a 3-2 edge with a backhander off a Scott Walker centering pass with 45.1 seconds left in the second.
Staal had actually gone 12 games without a goal against a goaltender. His last goal came on Nov. 2 and was an empty netter against
“Any time the best player ever is watching and coaching against you it definitely adds a little bit more to the game,” Staal said of Gretzky. “I wanted to show my stuff and be ready to play and ultimately help our team get a win.”
“When he breaks out he breaks out in a big way,” Whitney added. “He didn’t score them when it didn’t matter like I did, he scored them when they counted. He’s the biggest part of our hockey club.”
The night didn’t exactly start out on a positive note for Staal. It looked as if Carolina would escape two straight high-sticking penalties – one a four-minute offense against Staal for drawing blood – after killing off a 48-second 5-on-3 advantage, but the Coyotes struck with 38 seconds left on the Patrick Eaves penalty midway through the first. It was the third straight home game
Staal then broke out of his eight-game slump with 4:44 left in the first when he parked in front of Ilya Bryzgalov during a scramble and slammed home a rebound when a backhander from Sergei Samsonov hit him in the chest and dropped down at his skates.
Staal’s goal came after a lull in which
However, the Canes’ lead was short-lived when Shane Doan scored less than two minutes later, capitalizing on an Anton Babchuk turnover off the boards for a 2-1 lead. Doan had just one goal in 13 career games against
Staal’s second goal came with 12 minutes left in the second, his first shot deflected behind the net to Joni Pitkanen, who centered to Staal. The 6-foot-4 center was able to score despite being draped by a
“It was a matter of keeping it positive, keep attacking,” Staal said of his slump. “I was able to get in those high traffic areas and I’m a big body, I’ve got a lot of reach, so I tried to focus on getting to those spots and some of the guys made some great plays for me to capitalize on.”
Staal’s three goals gives him 132 for his
“It was Eric Staal’s night,” said Cam Ward, who stopped 26 of 28 shots for his seventh win of the season. “It was a matter of time before Staaler was going to break out and he played a heck of a game. I’m extremely happy for him.
“Never once did anybody in this locker room worry about Eric,” added Ward. “Even when he’s not scoring he brings something to the game and I thought he played really well defensively, too. I know he’s been frustrated, but he’s going to get a lot more this year, I guarantee you.”