Staal scored three consecutive goals for the natural hat trick in the first and second periods and Ward made 43 saves as the Hurricanes managed to hold off a late Ducks charge for a 4-2 victory at the RBC Center, extending their season-long winning streak to four games.
The efforts by the Canes’ two star players both carried some history. Staal’s hat trick, the 12th of his career that extended his own franchise record, put him into a three-way tie with Marian Gaborik and Alexei Kovalev for second among active players. Only the Ducks’ Teemu Selanne (21) has more.
“Staal has the ability to take the game over and I thought that he picked up his play when we were down that one goal and put the team on his shoulders,” said Ward, who made his 10th consecutive start. “There’s a reason why he’s one of the more dominant players in the league, and you got to see it tonight.”
Ward’s performance marked his second consecutive outing with 40 or more saves, as he stopped 45 against Atlanta on Thursday. Until Saturday, no Hurricanes goaltender had accomplished that feat since Sean Burke did so in January of 1997.
“I think we’ve done a nice job of fatiguing him into efficiency,” said coach Paul Maurice.
The Canes’ netminder was stellar all night long, but particularly on a string of Anaheim power plays that occurred when the Canes were whistled for six consecutive penalties from the second period on, culminating in a bizarre six-on-three advantage that came when Joe Corvo, Brandon Sutter and Staal were sent to the box 30 seconds apart in the game’s final three minutes.
“Not that I can remember,” said Staal of if he had any experience playing three men down. “In a game like that where it’s tight and there are battles out there, you don’t want to get those calls to go against you, but sometimes they do.”
Maurice said that he agreed with Corvo’s roughing call that started the trip to the penalty box (“He earned that one”), but that he would argue the calls against Sutter for closing his hand on the puck and against Staal for cross checking.
“For whatever reason missed that one on Staal,” said Maurice. “I’ve seen some pretty vicious cross checks late at six-on-five, and even when it was against our team not complained much because usually at that point in the game all bets are off. That one was fairly light.”
After Ryan Getzlaf had scored his second of the game to make the score 3-2 with just under two minutes remaining, Ward made the save of the night on Saku Koivu at point-blank range to prevent the tying goal.
“He’s one of the best in the league,” said Staal of Ward. “We expect that every night and take it for granted some nights.”
Staal’s first two goals came on first-period power plays, as the Canes finished 2-3 on the man advantage. On his first just past the seven-minute mark, Jussi Jokinen fed him as he crossed the blue line with speed, allowing him to beat goalie Jonas Hiller five-hole. His second came when Jamie McBain’s shot from the point missed the net wide but ricocheted right back to Staal on the doorstep with 27 second left in the period.
It wouldn’t take long for the hats to come flying after that, as Staal took a nice feed from Erik Cole across the goal crease to beat Hiller just 1:41 into the middle frame.
“Don’t underestimate how seriously he takes the mantle of leader and offensive production guy,” said Maurice of Staal. “He gets one early in the game and he thinks, ‘OK, I’m making a difference here,’ and it feeds him. It goes the other way when he struggles a little bit, he takes it very personally. I think people need to know that he carries it very heavily.”
With the outcome of the game still very much in the air, Corvo iced the game with an empty-netter from his own zone that set off some bad blood in front of the Carolina bench involving the Ducks’ Corey Perry. Perry, the victim of Corvo’s rough earlier in the period, jumped Corvo as the puck was crossing the goal line, earning a 10-minute misconduct after the fact.
With the victory, Carolina improves to 5-1-1 in the month of December and finds itself three games over the .500 mark.
“We’re playing good hockey,” said Staal. “We’re coming up near the holidays, and if we can continue this momentum forward and get a bunch of wins together, we’ll set ourselves up nice for January and February and pushing for the playoffs.”
NOTES: The Canes won for the third consecutive game in which they’ve allowed the first goal, improving their season mark to 5-12-2 in such situations … Staal finished with a game-high 10 shots, his most since Jan. 16, 2010 vs. Atlanta … Staal passed Robert Kron for ninth on the franchise’s games played list with 510. Next is Niclas Wallin (517) and Sami Kapanen (520) … Staal also had two power-play goals in one period against Ottawa on Nov. 17, making the only other time a Hurricanes has accomplished that feat this season … McBain has points in his last three games, a season high. His career long is four games, set last season in his first four NHL games … The Hurricanes’ four-game winning streak is the longest since they won seven straight between Feb. 5 – March 4 of last season … The Canes won 58 percent of their face offs, with no player losing more than he won.