Everyone sensed this kind of game was coming for Eric Staal. But when? That was the question.
Staal helped spur a third-period comeback Thursday against the Toronto Maple Leafs, scoring a goal and then assisting on another to tie the score. The Canes captain then won it at 3:09 of overtime with a one-timer from the right circle.
Pointless in six straight games and without a goal in his last nine, Staal finished with his eighth and ninth goals of the season, a three-point game and was named the game's first star. And one could almost hear a collective sigh of relief in the Canes' locker room after their third straight win at the RBC Center.
"I thought Staal was the best player on the ice tonight and I think there were a lot of people in our room who were happy for him," Canes coach Kirk Muller said. "I think that's a big load off of him. I know it's one game, but I think it's a huge game mentally for him."
Goals by Staal and Zac Dalpe gave the Canes a 3-3 tie in the third period. Had Leafs goalie James Reimer not stopped Staal's shot from the slot with 1:03 left in the third, the Canes might have won in regulation.
Nikolai Kulemin's goal with 13:24 left in the third period broke a 1-1 tie and gave the Leafs the lead. On a rush into the Carolina zone, Kulemin followed up a shot by Darryl Boyce.
The Hurricanes then killed off a slashing penalty against defenseman Bryan Allen, only to have the Leafs' Joffrey Lupul score to make it 3-1.
But Staal swept in on a breakaway to score for the Canes with 10:12 left in the third, getting the crowd back into the game.
"Just getting the first one was nice," Staal said. "It felt like after that we were going and we were buzzing."
Some hard work by Staal's line then resulted in a tying goal. Dalpe, in his second game since being recalled from the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL, stuffed in a rebound for a 3-3 with 8:10 left in regulation.
In the overtime, Staal unloaded from the right circle with Brandon Sutter screening goalie James Reimer.
"At least we got a point but I'm not happy," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. "I'm disappointed in the way that once we got a lead, our mental approach wasn't right. We should know how to defend the lead."
Sutter scored early in the game to give the Canes a 1-0 lead after the first period, but the Leafs tied it in the second on Nazem Kadri's goal.
After Sutter chipped the puck into the offensive zone, Drayson Bowman forced a turnover along the boards. With Chad LaRose driving the net down the middle, Sutter was able to find some open ice in the slot, Bowman got him the puck and Sutter blasted a top-shelf shot past James Reimer.
Sutter's second goal in as many games, and eighth of the season, came at 4:15. Bowman earned his first assist, and third point, of the season.
Kadri's goal, his third, came at 1:43 of the second. He scored on a quick wraparound that beat Cam Ward and came after a Canes turnover in the zone.
The Canes' Jiri Tlusty was called for a double-minor for high-sticking with 2:15 left in the second, but the Leafs' Clarke MacArthur was whistled for interference with 1:11 remaining.
The Canes had one power play and had to kill off two penalties in the first period. On the Leafs' second power play, Tim Connolly was alone in front of the net but blasted the puck high.
Not a lot of offensive chances in the first -- the Leafs had six shots, the Canes five. Carolina scored the first goal for the fourth straight game.
Bowman was on Eric Staal's line with Zac Dalpe in Tuesday's game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Canes coach Kirk Muller made a switch, moving Tlusty to the left side on Staal's line and putting Bowman on Sutter's line.
Chad LaRose earned one of the biggest cheers of the first period when he slammed into the Leafs' Keith Aulie, listed at 6-6 and 217 pounds, along the boards.