Staff photo by Chris Seward
RALEIGH — Henry and Linda Staal have three sons in the NHL, so they can’t make it to all of Eric’s games. The Carolina Hurricanes might want to ask them anyway.
With his parents at the RBC Center, Eric Staal broke out of an eight-game slump with a hat trick in the Canes’ 5-2 win over the Phoenix Coyotes on Friday night. It was the Canes third straight win and fourth in six home games.
"It was Eric Staal's night," Canes goalie Cam Ward said.
It was the first this season with the Staals in the building. Eric, the oldest of the NHL-playing brothers, put on a show with a goal in the first period and two in the second — his first goals since Nov. 2, a span of eight games.
Scott Walker’s hustle with 45.1 seconds left in the second period set up Staal for his fifth career hat trick. Walker beat the Phoenix defense to a loose puck behind the net and fed a charging Staal for a goal to give the Canes their first lead of the game.
"He could have had four or five tonight," Walker said of Staal. "You just never know. He could have had two or three in other games. It's just a matter of time and confidence and it starts to go for you.
"Star players can burn you at any time. Three goals and he's right back on top of things."
Phoenix, which has lost four straight games, started with a rare power-play goal in the first period and converted an Anton Babchuk mistake into a 2-1 lead before Staal’s surge.
"We played hard," Ward said. "We got out of the first period down by one, but from there, from the start of the second period we really took over the game."
Staal had only an assist since Nov. 2 and one goal in his previous 12 games. The 24-year-old center busted out of the mini-slump in the first period when he punched in a rebound of a Sergei Samsonov miss at 15:16.
Staal, Samsonov and linemate Tuomo Ruutu created three scoring chances on the same shift. Samsonov lunged at the puck in the slot to keep it alive. His shot bounced off Phoenix goalie Ilja Bryzgalov's leg pad and Staal swatted it cleanly into the net for his first goal.
That tied the score at 1. Babchuk’s giveaway in his own end led directly to Shane Doan’s goal at 17:03 in the first. Babchuk couldn’t clear the puck off the boards and Doan swooped in and beat Ward with a wrister from the left circle for the 2-1 lead.
Staal’s second goal tied it on a pretty centering pass from Canes defenseman Joni Pitkanen, who had two assist, giving him four since missing eight games with a knee injury.
Walker’s hustle and Staal’s timing accounted for the third on a night when trends were reversed.
Staal hadn’t scored and the Coyotes’ power-play had been dormant on the road. The Coyotes ranked 30th, or last in the NHL, entering the game, converting only three of 31 chances on the road.
"I thought we played very solid hockey tonight," Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky said. "I thought, again, we just don't score enough when we need to score to separate ourselves. I thought at 2-1 we had a lot of really good chances to go up 3-1. We're just a little bit snake-bitten right now."
After his team's pregame skate, Gretzky was asked about Staal and noted that it's only a matter of time before proven scorers break out of slumps. He was hoping tonight wouldn't be the night for Staal but ...
"He's too good of a player," Gretzky said. "Eventually a guy like that is going to get some goals. A guy of his caliber is just too good not to be scoring.
"We knew that was going to happen. Unfortunately it happened tonight. We didn't pick him up a couple of times and he capitalized on some good opportunities."
Keith Yandle’s sweet pass to Porter came after almost six minutes of the man-advantage — and 38 with two — after a double-minor on Staal for high sticking and a separate high sticking penalty on Patrick Eaves.
Ward, who finished with 26 saves, did the bulk of the penalty-killing which helped him win three straight for the first time this season.
Ray Whitney added two third-period goals, the second an empty-netter with 31.1 seconds left.