With a three-point effort in the 6-4 home victory over the division rival Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday, Staal passed Rod Brind’Amour to become the team’s all-time scoring leader since it relocated to North Carolina. His goal in the second period that proved to be the game winner tied him with Brind’Amour at 473 points, while his assist on Jussi Jokinen’s empty-net goal to seal the win gave him sole possession of first place.
Staal also extended his points streak to eight games, scoring 4 goals and 5 assists during that span, which is the longest by any Hurricanes player this season.
“It’s an honor for sure,” said Staal, who now has 46 points (22g, 24a) on the season. “I’ve been fortunate to play with some pretty good players here in this organization, and you get points with the help of other guys. Roddy is a pretty big name (to be ahead of), and hopefully we can keep her going here and get the wins.”
“What’s exciting about Eric Staal is that he’s not at his peak offensively or defensively,” said Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice. “He’s still learning the game and he’s still getting better.”
Staal’s goal came while shorthanded, which was fitting for a night in which the Hurricanes dominated on special teams. Carolina went 4-5 on the power play and killed all five Lightning power plays.
With Ryan Carter in the box for slashing, Staal went in alone on a breakaway but hit the post, only to receive an Erik Cole pass just seconds later while positioned in front of the net. With time on his side, Staal converted on a nifty forehand-to-backhand move through goaltender Dwayne Roloson’s legs from in close.
“I was licking my chops getting another chance at that,” said Staal. “Obviously when you get a shorthanded breakaway you want to bear down and finish it.”
While the penalty kill ended up producing the game-winning goal, it was the power play that got the Hurricanes out of trouble early in the second period. Carolina looked as thought it would take a 2-1 lead into the first intermission after a breakaway goal by Chad LaRose as he exited the penalty box – the first power-play goal of his career – and an even-strength tally by red-hot rookie Jeff Skinner.
However, a goal by Tampa Bay’s Vincent Lecavalier with 23 seconds left gave the visitors some momentum, which they made good on by taking a 3-2 lead through Simon Gagne just 1:02 into the second.
With the Canes seemingly on their heels, defenseman Jamie McBain netted one goal on the man advantage before Jokinen converted on a lengthy five-on-three power play that saw the Hurricanes take advantage of a timeout and a play drawn up by Associate Head Coach Ron Francis.
“Ronnie saw that that play might work and there was lots of room in the middle,” said Jokinen, who scored from the slot on a nice feed by Sergei Samsonov.
With 2 goals and an assist, Jokinen would join Staal and Erik Cole (3 assists) in the 3-point club for the night, giving the versatile Finn 7 points in three games since returning from a lower-body injury on Jan. 11.
“I thought he might have been our best forward,” said Maurice of Jokinen. “He played left and right on all three lines and he played center ice as well. We tried to get the (goalie) pads on him at the end, but he wouldn’t do it.”
After Staal’s shorthanded marker, the Canes entered the third period with a 5-3 lead that they would not relinquish despite allowing Gagne’s second goal of the night on a breakaway at 11:05. They improved to 14-0-0 when leading after two periods.
“It wasn’t pretty all the time, but we stayed with it, we were on the puck and we were jumping at least,” said Staal. “Obviously there were a few mistakes defensively, but it’s two big points against a division rival we’re chasing.”
Despite suffering a recently rare regulation loss in Buffalo two days prior, the Hurricanes are now 11-4-2 in their last 17 games and find themselves inching ever closer to playoff position. They’ve been in ninth place for the majority of that run, which is where they remained on Saturday evening.
“We’re still below the red line when we come in here tomorrow,” said Cole. “We’ve been right there, and even with this stretch of games that we’ve played where we’ve had some success we’re still right there. It just goes to show how tough it is.”
NOTES: With an assist on Saturday, Tuomo Ruutu has points in five consecutive games (3g, 5a) Overall, he has 16 points in his last 11 games… Skinner has points in five consecutive games (5g, 3a) … Cam Ward matched Arturs Irbe (309) as the franchise’s all-time leader in games played by a goaltender … Jay Harrison played in his 100th career NHL game … Cole needs four PIMs to tie Jeff O’Neill (372) as the Hurricanes all-time leader … Carolina is 13-4-1 in the last 17 meetings with Tampa Bay.