Veteran Staal Stays Hot, Wild Win
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Those Minnesota Wild fans waiting in concession lines or lingering too long in the concourse during the first intermission sure missed a show.
Eric Staal has put on quite the must-see performance himself this season.
Staal's second goal of the night for Minnesota capped a franchise-record flurry to start the second period, and the Wild cruised to a 6-2 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night.
"Everything he touches," coach Bruce Boudreau said, invoking the Greek mythological king Midas, "it turns into gold."
Staal, the second overall pick in the 2003 draft by the Hurricanes who spent 13 years with the club until a late-season trade, has 64 goals in 149 games with the Wild. That's tied for ninth in the NHL over the last two years. He's also tied for 17th with 132 points, and he's older than every player ahead of him in that span.
This season, he's tied for fourth in the league with 36 goals, trailing Washington's Alex Ovechkin, Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin and Winnipeg's Patrik Laine.
"I've got a lot of work to do if I want to catch or be around those guys," Staal said with a slight smile. "I'm just going to keep playing."
Nino Niederreiter, Zach Parise, Daniel Winnik and Staal scored in a span of 3:28, the fastest four-goal stretch in Wild history that gave the home team a huge lead less than four minutes after the first intermission ended.
The sign that this was the Wild's night came quickly in the second period, when Jared Spurgeon's slap shot from the point bounced off the neck of a ducking Niederreiter and past goalie Cam Ward with just 23 seconds elapsed.
"We've got to come out of the dressing room a little bit more organized and ready to play," Hurricanes coach Bill Peters said.
Winnik scored on his 33rd birthday, prompting Peters to pull Ward for Scott Darling. Then, just 15 seconds later, on the first shot Darling faced, Staal broke free in the Carolina zone, faked right and dragged the puck left to poke a backhander in for his 10th goal in the last nine games .
"I want to win every time I get on the ice," Staal said. "But when you pump 'em in like that for a bit, I think you feel a little bad."
In seven games since Jason Zucker and Mikael Granlund joined Staal on the first line, the trio has combined for 16 goals and 19 assists. With 15 games to go, Staal has a solid chance at the third 40-goal season of his career.
"I don't think anybody would've thought he'd have 36 goals at this stage of the game," Boudreau said. "I remember when we signed him, when we were talking in the room, and thinking if he could give us 50 to 60 points we would think it was a great signing."
Staal's first score came 4:35 into the game on the power play after a tripping call on Victor Rask, adding to Carolina's NHL-leading penalty total. Parise's goal was also with the man advantage for the Wild, who entered the game ranked eighth in the league on the power play. The Hurricanes came in 22nd on the penalty kill.
The Wild, whose post-New Year's Day surge has thrust them into third place in the Central Division, are 10-3-2 in their last 12 games. They pushed their lead over fourth-place Dallas, which controls the first wild card spot, to three points.
Devan Dubnyk made 29 saves for his fifth win in his last six starts, and the Wild raised their home record to an NHL-leading 24-5-6. Matt Cullen, another long-time former Hurricanes player who teamed with Staal on the 2006 Stanley Cup champion squad, scored late for the Wild.