RALEIGH, N.C. – Nothing like a visit from the Great One to get Eric Staal scoring again.
Staal had three goals in less than 24 minutes to lead the Carolina Hurricanes past the Phoenix Coyotes, 5-2 on Friday night. Busting out of an eight-game scoring drought in a big way, Staal completed his fifth career hat trick in the final minute of the second period to help the Hurricanes claim their season-high third straight victory.
And that Wayne Gretzky was behind the Coyotes’ bench, trying to figure out how to stop him, made it that much more special.
“He’s the best player at it – and he’s watching, coaching against you. It definitely adds a little bit more to the game,” Staal said. “And I wanted to show my stuff.”
Ray Whitney scored two late goals, including one into an empty net. Joni Pitkanen had three assists and Cam Ward stopped 26 shots for Carolina. Shane Doan and Kevin Porter scored and Ilja Bryzgalov made 28 saves for the streaky Coyotes, who have lost four straight since winning three in a row.
But the story of the night was Staal. Carolina’s highest-paid player hadn’t scored since Nov. 4 – his worst stretch since he went nine games without a goal in 2006-07.
“A guy his calibre is just too good not to be scoring,” Gretzky said.
Staal’s slump certainly seems over now. He had two game-tying goals before polishing off the hat trick by giving the Hurricanes the lead for good with 45.1 seconds before the break.
“He didn’t just score them when they didn’t matter, like I did,” Whitney said of Staal. “He scored them when they counted.”
Scott Walker threw the puck toward the net – and behind Bryzgalov – and Staal backhanded it past the goalie to make it 3-2 and become the first Carolina player with a three-goal game since Chad LaRose did it in a 6-2 victory over Tampa Bay on April 2.
That goal came about 11 minutes after Staal tied it at 2-2 by driving to the net after his shot went wide off the back boards, Pitkanen tracked it down and backhanded it to Staal and he tipped it between Bryzgalov’s legs. His first goal made it 1-1 with 4:44 left in the first when he chipped in the rebound of Sergei Samsonov’s backhand.
“It’s about burying your head, working hard, not changing your game, getting to those areas where goals are scored – and for me, goals are scored in the front of the net and those traffic areas,” Staal said. “Eventually, they were going to fall – I knew that.”
Doan answered that less than two minutes later, giving Phoenix a 2-1 lead at the first intermission by picking off Anton Babchuk’s clearing attempt off the boards, skating in on Ward and snapping the puck past him for his team-best 11th goal.
“We’ve got to answer back,” Doan said. “Urgency and desperation. It’s every single one of us finding a way to get that loose puck and find that second effort. It’s not fun when it’s not working, and you’re having to battle for every little one. When it’s easy, it’s fun. When it’s not, it’s really hard.”
Porter put the Coyotes up 1-0 on a power play midway through the first when he parked to the right of Ward and tipped a pass from Keith Yandle past the goalie for his fourth goal of the season and second in three games.
That came during a stretch of sluggish play for the Hurricanes, who put only one shot on net in a 10-minute span and allowed the opening goal for the fifth straight game – yet improved to 3-2 in that span.
“We played hard. We got out of the first period down by one, but from there – the start of the second period – we really took over the game,” Ward said. “And it was Eric Staal’s night.”
Notes: Carolina is 7-3-1 when its opponent scores first. … Before the game, the Coyotes placed LW Daniel Winnik on injured reserve and recalled RW Enver Lisin from San Antonio to replace him. … Both Yandle and Doan have points in three straight games, and Doan has goals in two straight and three of five. … Phoenix put 15 shots on goal in the first period.