Hurricanes top Rangers 4-3 on night Eric Staal returns

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RALEIGH, N.C. – The storm hit early, died down for a while, and then picked up again.

The Carolina Hurricanes took the early lead, lost it, and eventually regained it and posted a 4-3 win over the New York Rangers at PNC Arena on Thursday.

Patrick Brown, Justin Faulk, Jeff Skinner, and Victor Rask each scored while goalkeeper Cam Ward made 24 saves to earn the win.

“I thought we played real well,” Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters said.

“We had a real good first period and were the better team early. They take over in the second and it was pretty even. We won the third obviously, and got the two goals we needed to get the lead.”

On a night when former Hurricanes captain Eric Staal returned for the first time after being traded to the Rangers on Feb. 28, the Hurricanes played this game to win, regardless of the emotion that was tied to it.

Staal, who appeared in 909 games for the Hurricanes over his 12-year run including the early part of this season, scored 755 points (322g, 453a) in red before continuing on in blue with the Rangers.

He finished with three shots on goal, three hits, and won two-of-six faceoffs, but didn’t add to his point totals.

One of those wins off the draw came against younger brother Jordan, but New York couldn’t convert on the possession to tie the game with 21 seconds remaining.

It wasn’t the finish Eric desired with his new team which had dominated the Hurricanes, winning 14-of-15 previous games between the two teams.

Looking back on the win, Jordan reminisced of years past when he faced off against his older brother.

“It definitely brought back some memories, especially back in Pitt,” Jordan said.

“Playing against him in playoffs and stuff like that – I remember playing a lot of shifts against him and takin’ a lot of draws.”

Carolina outshot New York 7-0 during the first five minutes of play, but couldn’t beat goaltender Henrik Lundqvist who finished the night making 24 stops in the loss.

At the other end, the first opportunity New York responded with came from the elder Staal.

However, Ward smothered it away from his former teammate.

Carolina didn’t relent and Brown soon scored his first career NHL goal after he outskated New York defenseman Keith Yandle to a hard dump-in off the right corner glass from Jeff Skinner.

Brown’s quick snap shot cleared Lundqvist’s left shoulder and put the Hurricanes up 1-0 at the 11:05 mark.

“It was a great feeling,” Brown said of the goal.

“Skins made a great play there and I was able to beat the D coming off the bench, and snuck it by him.”

With Carolina holding its lead through 20 minutes of play, the Rangers got a spritz of water and a likely scolding from head coach Alain Vigneault and responded quickly to take control of the game.

Mats Zuccarello’s 25th goal of the season 96 seconds into the second was quickly followed by Rick Nash’s 15th.

Nash outmuscled Carolina defenseman Brett Pesce to the puck and snapped a shot over Ward’s trapper and put the Rangers ahead 2-1 at the 5:03 mark.

New York continued to pressure Ward.

The momentum of the game had decidedly shifted in the Rangers favor for the early half of the period before the Hurricanes regained their composure.

In facing the Rangers, Jordan also had to contend with playing against his other older brother, Rangers defenseman Marc Staal.

He relished the opportunity to play against both and was happy to come out on the winning side.

“It was a fun game,” Jordan said.

“There was a lot of atmosphere in the building which made it that more exciting. I think the guys really fed off the crowd going back and forth. It was a great game from a lot of players – a fun win.”

Trailing by a goal, Carolina evened the score with 6:37 to play in the period.

After picking the puck up from defenseman Ryan Murphy, rookie forward Sergey Tolchinsky carried the puck across the high slot before dropping it back to Faulk at the right point.

The Carolina defender’s wrist shot beat Lundqvist high to the glove side and tied the score 2-2.

It was Tolchinsky’s first career NHL point playing in his first game, and it all happened in a blur according to him.

“I wasn’t really sure what I was doing there – I blacked out,” he said smiling afterwards.

“I was thinking about dumping the puck first and all of a sudden at the last second I decided to cut to the middle. Faulker had a great shot from the blue line – top shelf.”

A hooking penalty to defenseman Ron Hainsey three minutes later proved costly as Kris Kreider scored his 19th of the season and put New York ahead again, 3-2.

The Rangers carried their one-goal advantage into the second intermission and evened their shot totals with the Hurricanes at 17 apiece.

Both teams came out for the third period threatening to score.

It was Carolina who struck twice.

Skinner’s tip-in put the teams even at 3-3 at the 4:22 mark.

Off a pass from Brown, Ryan Murphy’s point shot made it through to the Rangers’ net where Skinner got a stick on it and scored his 27th of the season.

With J.T. Miller in the penalty box for high sticking, Rask then scored on the power play, and put the Hurricanes ahead 4-3.

It was Rask’s 21st of the season and second game-winner in three games, having posted his most recent in a 3-2 win over New Jersey on Sunday.

For the remaining 11 minutes of play, Ward made the stops he needed to make, including a threatening redirect from Kreider with five minutes left.

With Lundqvist out of his net for the final 99 seconds, Carolina held off the last hard push the Rangers made with the extra skater.

Another win still left hope of working to earn a playoff spot, but a very slim chance at that.

The Hurricanes earned two more points in the 12th game of 14 since the trade deadline, and sit five points behind the Philadelphia Flyers who still hold two games-in-hand with six games remaining to Carolina’s four.

Even as a long shot to make the postseason, Skinner, the Hurricanes’ leading scorer, expressed the attitude he and this team will continue to play with for the remainder of the season.

“It’s a huge win for us,” Skinner concluded.

“We just gotta keep doin’ good things and keep up the good work. Hopefully, we’ll come out on the right side of these.”

Boxscore: Carolina 4, New York 3