RALEIGH — For Eric Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes, the golden glow wasn't very lasting.
Even Sidney Crosby says it has been a bit of a struggle getting back in the NHL flow.
Two weeks ago Sunday, Staal and Crosby were a part of one of the biggest hockey moments of their lives. Though both have won Stanley Cups, it was hard to match the thrill, the nationwide euphoria, that came from Crosby's overtime goal for Canada - forever to be known as the "Golden Goal" - that beat the United States 3-2 in the Vancouver Olympics.
In seven games since winning the gold medal, Staal has just one goal and three assists for the Canes. The one goal: against Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday in a 4-3 overtime win.
"Yeah, it has been difficult. I'm not going to lie," Staal said. "Coming from such an intense and different game, it's just natural that's the way it's going to be."
The day after the gold-medal game, Staal sat in a conference room at the Canes' team hotel in Toronto and insisted he could quickly get back into the swing of things. In truth, two weeks in Vancouver took a toll.
"Physically, it's a lot of games," he said Friday. "We played every second day, had a back-to-back. You try to recover as best you can, but ..."
But it's tough, Crosby said.
"I think it's normal. It's only human nature," he said. "When things are that intense and emotional and you're playing that hard a hockey, it's not easy."
The Pens' center bounced back with two goals and three assists in his first three games after the Olympics, then had one goal and two assists in the next three.
Not bad numbers, but Crosby believes they could have been better. After all, he scored eight goals in the six games before the Olympic break.
"You want to be excited by the fact you've played at such a high level [in the Olympics]," he said. "You try to make the most of it, because it's only going to feel like that for three or four games.
"You're talking about a gold-medal game. You try to ride that as long as you can. But you get back and the pace isn't the same. At this point, it's always a grind."
Staal said that it was only in the last few games that his legs have felt fresh. And it wasn't just fatigue. Against Ottawa on March 4, he took a shot off his left leg and hobbled his way through the rest of the game.
"Believe me, I was trying as hard as I could," he said of his post-Olympic play. "Sometimes, it's just tough to get the legs going.
"I'm beginning to feel a little better with my game and have that jump back. But for a few games it was tough to get going because of the travel and the [Olympic] games."
Staal's statistical line Tuesday, in the Canes' 4-3 overtime loss in Washington, showed three shots on goal, three missed shots, one giveaway and an 8-16 record on faceoffs. The next night, against the Penguins at the RBC Center, Staal seemed more energized.
Maybe it was having Crosby in the house. Maybe it was seeing his brother, Jordan, score the game's first goal for the Pens.
Eric Staal banged in a shot early in the second period to give the Canes a 3-2 lead. Early in overtime, he assisted on Brian Pothier's winner. He also had three hits and was 14-11 on draws.
Staal had nine shots, three on goal, Saturday against the Phoenix Coyotes. But no one in a Canes sweater could get the puck past Ilya Bryzgalov, who had 29 saves in a 4-0 victory.
Crosby had an assist against the Canes in Thursday's game but didn't score and wasn't much of a factor. His turnover in overtime led to Pothier's winner.
The Canes' defenseman who forced the turnover was Tim Gleason, and it may have provided some small measure of satisfaction. Gleason was a member of Team USA, leaving Vancouver with a lot of good memories but with a medal that was silver and not gold.
But Gleason believes the Olympic experience has only helped him.
"I think it gave me a little more confidence in being poised and patient and things like that," he said. "I think it will help me grow through time."
Team USA lost just one game in Vancouver - the big one, the game for the gold. As for any post-Olympic letdown, Gleason shrugged it off.
"It's just a mental thing, really," he said. "Obviously that one game, it's tough to compare that to any other game in the regular season. But we've got a job to do and you have to mentally prepare for it."
And move on.
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