UNIONDALE, N.Y. — If the Carolina Hurricanes are going to qualify for the playoffs, they need to continue to feast on the teams below them.
Wednesday night it was the New York Islanders, a team near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. Carolina notched a 4-2 victory over New York. The Canes were led by two goals from All-Star captain Eric Staal, 1:28 apart in the second period. It was the 35th time Staal has scored multiple goals in a game.
Staal's effort gave Carolina a 3-1 lead after two periods. Brandon Sutter sealed the victory with a break-away goal late in the third period.
The Hurricanes took a 1-0 lead at 14:43 of the first period when center Zach Boychuk took a pass from Erik Cole along the right-side boards and fired a wrist shot from the right faceoff circle that sailed over goalie Rick DiPietro's shoulder. It was Boychuk's fourth goal of the season and first since being recalled from Charlotte on Monday.
"We feel there's a fair amount of pressure on the road," Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said. "We're right there, still a point behind Atlanta for the last spot. Every mistake you make on the ice has some consequences."
Earlier in the week, Carolina defeated Toronto, another non-playoff bound club, 6-4.
Staal's first goal was a give-and-go with Cole just outside the Islanders' blue line. Less than two minutes later Staal deflected a blast from the left point by defenseman Joe Corvo for his 25th goal of the season.
"He's building," Maurice said of his captain. "He's getting better. To be honest, we expect these kind of performances from Eric."
"This is a huge game for us before the break," Staal said. "We want to beat these teams that are below us in the standings. You want to step on the gas when you're ahead. I thought Troy's fight gave us some energy."
Staal was referring to Troy Bodie's battle with Islander tough guy Zenon Konopka at 4:07 of the second. Three minutes later Staal went on his mini scoring spree.
"I think for the most part we've had a tough schedule to start," Staal noted. "Our group, consistency wise, is getting better."
The Islanders had tied the score at 1-1 when Michael Grabner, the team's lone representative at the All-Star Game, was left unchecked in front of the net 31 seconds into the second period. Defenseman Andrew MacDonald closed out the scoring at 18:39 of the third period.
Center Jeff Skinner, the youngest player in the league at 18, was told before the game he was an injury replacement for this weekend's All-Star Game. Skinner leads all rookies in scoring with 40 points.
"I think it's going to be an exciting weekend with a lot of memories," Skinner said. "As the year goes on you always want to get stronger. Hopefully, we can put it together for these last couple of months and see what we can do."
Maurice has been one of the many admirers of the teenage center.
"He's been so much fun to watch," Maurice said. "You don't expect an 18-year-old to come in and show the flair he has. He's shown that rare gift of great players. That age doesn't matter. He has a special gift."