Hurricanes 6, Lightning 4
“He’s trying to yell it as loud as he can,” Carolina coach Peter Laviolette said. “He’s standing on top of the mountain, screaming. I don’t know if anybody will hear, but you’ve got to love the way he took charge of the game.”
Staal scored two goals and had a brilliant assist to set up Matt Cullen’s go-ahead goal seconds after Carolina wasted a two-man advantage, and the Hurricanes held on to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 6-4 Tuesday night.
The Canadian Olympic team will be announced Wednesday—two days after the United States named a roster that included Staal’s linemate, Erik Cole—so this was the final chance for Staal to make his case. His first multi-goal game since Nov. 29 helped Carolina take a seven-point lead in the Southeast Division.
“We’ll see what happens,” Staal said. “Obviously, it’s in the back of your mind. Hopefully, I made it pretty tough for them not to take me. If not, I’ll be ready the next time around.”
It was his effort early in the third period that likely saved this one for the Hurricanes. They had 57 seconds of 5-on-3 when defenseman Nolan Pratt was called for hooking about halfway through a Lightning penalty for too many men on the ice, but goaltender Sean Burke held Carolina at bay.
Then with Pratt still in the box, Staal took the puck deep in his own end and raced up the ice, going right past defenseman Cory Sarich.
“That’s something we’ve become pretty accustomed to here,” Cole said. “He’s a tremendous player, and he’s been doing that all year.”
As he skated by the net, Staal centered a pass to Cullen just outside of the crease, and he beat Burke easily to give the Hurricanes the lead. Justin Williams and Cole each had a goal and an assist, while Cory Stillman added two assists against his former team on his 32nd birthday.
“Some guys are trending upward, some guys are trending downward,” Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella said. “We just haven’t been able to get everybody going at the same time.”
Carolina took a 4-2 lead in the second period before Tampa Bay rallied in the final 4 minutes. First, Ryan Craig scored on the power play, giving him goals in the first two games of his career and cutting the margin in half. The Hurricanes appeared they would take that to the second intermission when goaltender Martin Gerber stopped Evgeny Artyukhin from close range in the final 10 seconds.
But Martin St. Louis stole the puck after the ensuing faceoff and skated in alone on Gerber, and his backhand went into the top of the net to tie it at 4.
“We fought hard there and went into the third, and all of a sudden, there are some penalties,” Burke said. “And it was over. I don’t know how to describe it.”
Carolina bounced right back with Cullen’s third goal in the past four games, all since he went 19 games without one. Williams added the clincher about nine minutes later on the power play.
Staal, who slipped to ninth among the NHL’s scoring leaders during a recent slump, got started after Fredrik Modin gave the Lightning a 1-0 barely 3 1/2 minutes into the game. He took Cole’s pass in front of the net, and when Burke stopped his first shot, Staal stuffed in the rebound off both posts.
Later, with the score 2-2, he dug the puck out of the corner and shot quickly to give the Hurricanes the lead, and they stretched it to 4-2 when Cole scored in the second period.
“It was a big game for us,” Laviolette said. “For him to be a dominating player like that, against a good team, that says a lot about how far he has come as a player in this league. He’s not watching anymore. He’s part of the reason why we’re having the success we are.”
Hurricanes D Andrew Hutchinson scored in the first period, his first goal of the season. … Lightning LW Ruslan Fedotenko didn’t dress for the second straight because of a strained left hip. … Carolina D Aaron Ward played despite taking a puck in the neck during the morning skate. … The teams play again Monday night in Tampa Bay.