RALEIGH, N.C. – It was an emotional day on and off the ice for the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena on Sunday.
On the ice, the Hurricanes lost 5-2 and suffered their third straight loss in as many games.
Forward Jeff Skinner and defenseman Ron Hainsey scored singles while Cam Ward accepted the loss as the Blues outshot the Hurricanes 40-34.
In addition to losing another game, and more significantly so, even before they donned their equipment, the players lost their captain.
They found out roughly an hour or so prior to puck drop that Eric Staal had been traded to the New York Rangers.
With one day to go before the NHL trade deadline, Carolina dealt Staal for a prospect and two second-round draft picks.
The players knew something could happen, but weren’t aware exactly when it would.
“We’re at the point where the business long-term view takes over,” the veteran Hainsey said afterwards.
“It’s the big leagues – it’s not fair, it’s not easy.”
You could hear lots of noise from the players in the hallway outside the dressing room as they stretched and volleyed the soccer ball amongst one another about an hour-and-a-half before the game.
Then it was time to gear up to face the Blues for the final time this season, the team they beat 4-1 back on Jan. 14th.
When they returned to the dressing room, they found out that the trade had transpired.
“I wished him well briefly because we were getting’ in to prepare for the game,” Hainsey said.
“I’ll talk to him more later on, obviously.”
For Jordan Staal, the interaction with his brother was just as brief considering the timing of it all.
“It was more of good luck and I gotta go play,” Jordan said.
“It was a little bit shorter of a talk, but I’m sure we’ll have a talk later.”
Without Eric Staal, Carolina played with an even shorter bench considering recent injuries.
“I think that has a factor in it for sure,” Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters said of the effect the trade news had on the team.
“That’s reality, right? It definitely plays a part in it…We ended up with three lines of three and I thought they played well though. I thought the guys dug in and did a good job.”
Following the opening faceoff, St. Louis got into an aggressive forecheck and it paid off early on.
Ty Rattie roofed one past Ward just 2:17 into the period after Scottie Upshall and Kyle Brodziak tested him with shots on goal while forcing Carolina to turn the puck over.
Six minutes later, Skinner tied it up 1-1 following a draw in the St. Louis zone as his wrist shot snuck through Allen’s left arm and body.
Hainsey and Victor Rask earned assists on the play.
The defenseman then wired a slap shot from the point and gave the Hurricanes the lead at the 9:25 mark.
After getting the pass at the blue line from Skinner, Hainsey’s slap shot made it through traffic as Brad Malone stood in front to set the screen on Blues goalkeeper Jake Allen.
Allen couldn’t track the puck all the way, and it made its way past him and into the net.
Carolina carried the 2-1 lead into the first intermission even while the Blues outchanced them by a slim 12-10 margin.
It only took 20 seconds into the second period for the Blues to tie it up as David Backes cleaned up a feed in the low slot from Magnus Paajarvi.
The Blues continued to get the extra step on the Hurricanes during the period and peppered Ward with plentiful amounts of rubber.
With the exception of defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, everyone on the St. Louis roster registered at least one shot on goal throughout the game.
The Carolina netminder made many exceptional stops to keep the score even, but eventually it overwhelmed him and the defense in front of him.
Carolina didn’t do itself any favors defensively or offensively in eventually finishing 0-for-3 on the power play.
With 8:50 remaining in the period, Upshall stole the puck from Hurricanes defenseman Noah Hanifin in the neutral zone and fed a streaking Brodziak who beat Ward with a shorthanded tally.
Brodziak’s third of the season put St. Louis ahead 3-2.
“We got into their defense a little bit and we got a lot of energy,” Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock said.
“I thought it’s one of the best periods we’ve played. We hemmed them in and didn’t let them out.”
The Blues continued to dominate the rest of the period, and held onto the one-goal advantage after 40 minutes.
They added to it in the third with goals from Robby Fabbri and Alex Pietrangelo 37 seconds apart and put the Hurricanes behind 5-2.
It was a deficit Carolina couldn’t further chip into for the remainder of the game, even while outshooting St. Louis 16-8 through the final 20 minutes of play.
The game’s prior events impacted the outcome for the Hurricanes.
“I don’t think it helped,” Jordan said.
“When you lose the captain of your team, it’s hard to swallow. I think we’re gonna have to take the medicine and we’ll have to move forward.”
“It’s going to be a void for sure until we figure out a way to fix that,” Peters added.