RALEIGH, N.C. – Eric Staal wasn’t going to let his little brother lose on this special night.
The older Staal centred a line that produced three goals in the Carolina Hurricanes’ 4-1 victory over Pittsburgh on Thursday night in ex-Penguin Jordan Staal’s first game against his old teammates.
This was a week of reunions for the Hurricanes’ two big off-season acquisitions. They came up empty two nights earlier in Washington in Alexander Semin’s first game against the Capitals, and they weren’t going to let it happen again to their other notable new face.
“We missed out for Alex on Tuesday so we wanted to make sure we got it for Jordy,” Staal said. “Big week for us, and obviously just a big game for us. The division’s tightening up, and we want to stay ahead. We want to get ahead of the group, we want to separate ourselves and you’ve got to win games.”
Big brother’s line did much of the damage: Jiri Tlusty had two goals and an assist, Eric Staal had a goal and two assists and Semin had two assists.
“I’m just enjoying my time and building the confidence and playing with two of the best players in the NHL,” Tlusty said. “What can you say? It’s enjoyable every single day, every single shift out there … and you just go out there and enjoy it. That’s what hockey is about, right?”
Jeff Skinner scored a goal in his first game back from a concussion and Cam Ward made 26 saves for the Southeast Division co-leaders, who erased an early 1-0 deficit by scoring three goals in a span of 6 minutes, 14 seconds.
Chris Kunitz scored for the Penguins, who entered leading the Atlantic Division but were held without a power-play goal for the first time since Feb. 2.
Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 25 shots for the Penguins, who have lost the first two games of a three-game road swing.
“We’re a good team, but we’re a good team when we work hard as a group,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “We can’t expect to show up in teams’ buildings on the road and just put our gear on and expect to win.”
All the pregame attention was on Jordan Staal’s first meeting with his former teammates since the blockbuster trade on draft night that sent him to his brother’s team for Brandon Sutter and others.
“It’s fun when you’re playing against your former team. It makes for a special challenge,” Jordan Staal said. “It was a little weird playing against those guys but it turned out to be a good night for us.”
All of Carolina’s goals came from close range, prompting Penguins coach Dan Bylsma to suggest his team hung Fleury “out to dry.”
“You could throw a blanket over the area they scored four goals tonight,” Penguins defenceman Brooks Orpik said.
The Hurricanes started their scoring binge in the final minute of the first period, tying it at 1 with 24.1 seconds left when Eric Staal redirected Semin’s spinning shot.
Tlusty then made it 2-1 by stuffing in the rebound of Eric Staal’s close-range shot 4:03 into the second.
Skinner pushed the lead to 3-1 just 1:46 later when he scored off a pretty backhand pass from Patrick Dwyer. And Tlusty capped Carolina’s three-goal second period and made it a three-goal game with 10.1 seconds left.
“Scoring in the last minute of any period is huge and those were big,” Eric Staal said. “They kind of got the momentum on our side, and we followed through with that.”
That had the Hurricanes on their way to yet another victory over a non-Southeast Division team. They are 0-5 against the other four teams in their division—and 10-3-1 against everybody else.
This one started just as the stat sheet suggested it would—with the Penguins scoring first.
Crosby delivered a pretty cross-ice pass to Kunitz, who fired a one-timer past Ward to make it 1-0 with 6:46 left. The Penguins entered outscoring their opponents 23-9 in the first period, while Carolina had been outscored 21-7 in the opening 20 minutes.
And for more than 19 minutes of the period, it looked as though those stats would hold—until Staal’s redirection started the Hurricanes’ flurry against Fleury.
NOTES: Bylsma said C Evgeni Malkin, who missed his third straight game with a concussion, skated for the second consecutive day at the team’s practice facility south of Pittsburgh—and uncorked a nifty trick shot, sending a puck into a bag from centre ice. Bylsma said there is no timetable for Malkin’s return. … Skinner was one of four Hurricanes who returned from injuries, joining D Tim Gleason, D Jamie McBain and C Tim Brent. … Carolina was 1-4 without Skinner.