The Jordan Staal house has been full this week.
Full of Staals, young and old.
There’s Jordan and his family. And Eric Staal’s family – wife Tanya and their three sons.
“They’re all here,” Jordan Staal said Tuesday after the Canes’ 3-2 overtime loss to the New York Islanders. “The little boys are crashing at our place. I had a little louder nap than usual today, but it has been a lot of fun.”
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Eric Staal and the Minnesota Wild flew in after a 4-2 road loss Tuesday to the Washington Capitals and practiced Wednesday at PNC Arena. Staal said he was able to slip by Jordan’s house before practice and planned to later eat with the family – a rare respite on the road.
On Thursday, it could be Staal vs Staal, center vs center in a big-boy duel. Eric Staal has played a major role in the Wild’s impressive season and is tied for the team lead with 23 goals. Jordan Staal is the Canes’ best checking center.
“It’ll take me back to playing against him when he was with Pittsburgh,” Eric Staal said Wednesday, smiling. “He said he’s got some good legs and he’ll be ready.
“He’s been playing well. He’s big and strong and he controls a lot of the play when he’s on the ice. He doesn’t give up a lot. So it will be a challenge whoever is against him.”
Their separation a year ago was disheartening for both. Jordan Staal, traded to Carolina in June 2012, had signed a 10-year extension with the idea of playing with his big brother and helping the Canes again be relevant at playoff time.
That didn’t happen and the Canes parted ways last year with Eric Staal, the team captain and one of the heroes of Carolina’s 2006 Stanley Cup championship run, just before the NHL trade deadline. Staal was sent to the New York Rangers, joining brother Marc Staal, and later made an emotional, slightly surreal return to PNC Arena on March 31.
There was a “Thank You Eric” photo collage waiting for him in a hallway leading the visitors locker room. The Canes had a video tribute for him during the game and the fans gave him a huge ovation. The Canes also won the game 4-1.
Eric Staal did get his first taste of the playoffs since 2009, but the Rangers were quickly bounced by the Penguins. Soon, Staal was a free agent for the first time in his career.
The Wild wanted him and Staal, 32, has a new zest about him. He has 53 points and a plus-7 rating and has scored seven game-winning goals for the Wild.
“I’m not surprised,” Jordan Staal said. “He’s an elite player. He was frustrated with what was going on here, getting weighed down by the pressure and it started to affect his game. He put a lot on his shoulders. You could tell it was starting to get to him, on and off the ice.”
With the Wild, Eric Staal no longer is the highest-paid player on the team, no longer the captain. The focus is not on him every night.
“He’s a humble, genuine person and someone you like to be around,” Wild forward Zach Parise said. “He’s been a big part of our offense this year. You need those big centermen. He’s been skating well, scoring. I think he’s rounded out our top six (forwards) really well.”
The Wild (43-19-6) has been battling the Chicago Blackhawks for the top spot in the Western Conference but has been in a little slide of late, losing four of the past five. That’s one reason Wild coach Bruce Boudreau put his team through a 40-minute practice a day after a game.
Eric Staal, after a dip in production, has six goals and an assist in the past six games, scoring on the power play Tuesday against the Caps.
“He has had a fresh start on a new team that’s playing really well,” Jordan Staal said. “He’s more relaxed. He’s getting the opportunities and taking advantage of it.”
Eric Staal will playing his 998th career game Thursday and once believed the 1,000th would be with the Hurricanes.
“I envisioned being there forever,” he said. “That’s what you always envision as a player but it doesn’t always work out that way. I’m truly happy with where I ended up and the group I’m with. We’ve got a great team and it’s a great organization that’s really hungry to win.”
MINNESOTA WILD AT CAROLINA HURRICANES
When: 7 p.m., Thursday
Where: PNC Arena, Raleigh