It was just like old times for the Carolina Hurricanes, and certainly for Eric Staal.
Staal had the RBC Center roaring in the third period Thursday, scoring a goal and then unleashing a mighty uppercut. But his second goal, in overtime, topped the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 and had the building really rumbling.
It hasn't been the best of seasons for the Canes or for Staal, their captain. But their last home game in 2011 will be one to remember.
Trailing the Leafs 3-1, the Canes could have gone quietly into the night. But Staal scored on a breakaway, beating goalie James Reimer with a forehand with 10 minutes, 12 seconds left in regulation.
"Just getting the first one was nice," Staal said. "It felt like after that we were going and we were buzzing."
About two minutes later, Staal's line struck again to tie it. Zac Dalpe, called up this week from the Charlotte Checkers of the American Hockey League, banged in a rebound at the post after some hard work by Staal and Jiri Tlusty around the net.
"When you get that first one you're feeling good and you're excited and you want to get back on the ice," Staal said. "I think all three of us felt the same way. It was nice to be rewarded."
Had Reimer not stopped Staal on a shot in the slot with a little more than a minute left in the third, the Canes could have won it in regulation. And had it not been for some hustle by Canes center Brandon Sutter, the Leafs might have won in overtime. Toronto had a three-on-two rush, but Sutter skated back and knocked the puck away. He then outfought forward Tim Connolly along the boards, forcing a tripping penalty on Connolly at 2:31 of overtime.
On the four-on-three power play, Staal unloaded from the right circle at 3:09 for the winner. It was bedlam at the RBC Center.
Staal had gone six games without a point. But after the sixth, Tuesday against the Pittsburgh Penguins, he and brother Jordan Staal of the Pens had what Eric called a "good conversation."
"We've had a lot of talks over the years about how I score some pretty ugly goals with some shots and wraps and off some skates," Staal said. "Shooting from everywhere, and you get a bounce, get a break and you start feeling good. He was the first one to say, 'Just start shooting from everywhere, make it ugly.' I talked to him again on the way to the rink tonight and said, 'I'll be firing from all angles and see what happens.' "
What happened was Staal's first goal in nine games, a three-point game and being named the game's first star.
"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."
Dalpe had a goal and assist for the Canes (13-20-6), who have won three straight at home. Sutter scored just 4:15 in. Just as big was the gritty work of the Canes' penalty killers, including Sutter and Staal, and goalie Cam Ward.
Nazem Kadri had a second-period goal, and scores by Nikolai Kulemin and Joffrey Lupul pushed Toronto ahead 3-1.
The Leafs (18-14-5) were second in the NHL on the power play but 0-for-7 in the game, failing late in regulation after Carolina was called for too many men on the ice. The Canes will close 2011 with a New Year's Eve game on the road against the Tampa Bay Lightning. And with some hope.
"We've got to bring the same tenacity we have had at home the last couple of games and bring it on the road," Staal said. "Keep climbing the ladder because you never know."