RALEIGH, N.C. — Jordan Staal would not be denied, and neither would the Carolina Hurricanes, not ready for this magical season to end.
In a flurry around the goal mouth early in the third period, with the season on the line, Staal backhanded in a rebound for the go-ahead goal as the Carolina Hurricanes avoided elimination with a 5-2 Game 6 victory Monday night over the Washington Capitals.
Game 7 is Wednesday night in D.C.
“I was just hoping to get one. Everyone wanted to be that guy and it was fortunate enough to be me,” said Staal, who recorded his second multi-point game of the series and ninth of his career. “There were so many other things to help us get there.”
It was fitting that Carolina grinded out that goal because they gained the edge on the evening by outgrinding the Caps.
“We were fortunate with a quick shot from Faulker,” Staal said of Justin Faulk’s initial shot.
“And I was just trying to track the puck and honestly, just got a piece of it and it was fortunate enough to go in.”
It was only Staal’s second goal and fourth point of the series, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
“You know what you're getting with Jordan and there is that offensive player in him, too,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “He can score, and he made plays. That's kind of his area around the net and it was nice to see him get rewarded because the guy, he does everything right for us. I don't know if he gets enough credit for how good he is.”
A solid final two periods made up for two damaging first-period mistakes that gave Washington its two goals.
Now, Carolina is one win away from dethroning the reigning Stanley Cup champions. “We gave them a couple of chances and they put ’em in,” Staal said.
“That’s what that team does, and obviously a very talented team putting the puck in the back of the net.”
Petr Mrazek, after facing difficult chances because of those first-period errors, was stellar again with huge third-period saves on a 23-save night. When the puck did go in in the third period, it was ruled that Alex Ovechkin shoved Mrazek into the net before the puck went in, wiping out the goal.
Justin Williams, a player who has provided a lot of Game 7 magic in his career, tipped in a goal shortly afterward, with Staal getting one of the assists, to provide the insurance to assure that game would happen.
Dougie Hamilton later added an empty-net goal. “It is valuable to have guys that have been there before,” Brind’Amour said. “We don’t have a ton of those, but we do have Mr. Game 7, if you will.
Everyone is calling him that. What it does is makes it nice for the young guys to look across the room and see a guy who is approaching the game in the same way.”
They say that a series doesn’t start until the home team loses.
Carolina hopes to get things started Wednesday. The Caps pounced on a pair of first-period gifts that left the Canes down 2-1 despite outshooting the Caps 15-7. Ultimately, Carolina was rewarded for its 35-25 shot edge for the game, but it didn’t look like it early.
“We played a solid 60 minutes,” Brind’Amour said. “We had our gaffes. We messed up and they made us pay. But, for the most part, our guys just played hard.”
Brett Connolly roofed in a shot 5:06 into the game on a grade-A chance when Sebastian Aho was caught out of position chasing the puck. It gave the visiting team a lead for the first time in the series. Seconds after a power play full of perimeter shots that seemed to have Carolina panicking at the end, Warren Foegele seized on a loose rebound in the slot, spun and fired it past Braden Holtby to tie it up.
Another mistake, this time from a gambling Hamilton, proved costly.
Ovechkin seized the open ice, waited out a sliding Jaccob Slavin and fired it in to give Washington a 2-1 lead late in the opening period.
“In the end, we weren’t playing terrible, but we had to find a way to tighten it up and I thought our group started keeping them more to the outside and our PK did a great job and then ‘Raz stepped up and made some big saves, too,” Staal said. “So it was everybody tonight and that’s what we need to win this series.”
Aho made up for an earlier defensive mistake by swiping the puck away from Washington’s Jonas Siegenthaler behind the Caps goal and feeding the puck to Teuvo Teravainen, who rocketed it by Holtby. “It was a good battle in our D zone, and we got the puck out and got it back and a great shot by Turbo,” Aho said.
After Carolina’s special teams were abysmal in Game 5, they were better Monday.
The Canes got two big penalty kills in the second period. Although the power play didn’t produce any goals, it improved quite a bit.
Whether they were down 2 games to one in the series or 2-1 in Game 6, the Canes showed resolve in both situations that comes from their veteran leaders helping the younger players.
“You have to have that attitude and a little swagger and belief in the group that you’re going to find a way,” Staal said. “Tonight’s no different when you’re down a goal against a good team that plays defensive, you’ve got to believe that you are going to find a way and this group has been resilient and we’re going to find a way to way to do it on the road.”
It’s the job of Williams and Staal, who have been through the playoff wars, to convince the young players that Wednesday is just another game.
“Obviously, the nerves are going,” Staal said. “But once you’re in it and once you’re playing, it’s hard not to stay in that moment and just play. I think the guys will realize the nerves might be flowing a little before the game but once you’re in it, it’s like all the hockey you’ve played all your life.”
He knows that anything can happen in a Game 7, even if the game is played in Washington where Carolina put up a clunker on Saturday night.
“We have to do what we did tonight and just do those things and grind away and not get rattled and keep at it and do all those things that we did at home and we’ll find a way,” Staal said. “It’s what you dream of playing as a kid and it’s an exciting time and I know everybody in this group is excited.”
Wednesday, we’ll see if Carolina, once again, finds a way.
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