They’ll always be welcome in Raleigh, always celebrated as a big part of the Carolina Hurricanes’ 2006 Stanley Cup run.
On Thursday, Eric Staal was at PNC Arena.
On Saturday, it will be Peter Laviolette.
For Staal, it was a second return since the Canes traded the former team captain to the New York Rangers just before the 2016 NHL trade deadline. This time, Staal was with the Minnesota Wild, and the Canes again sent him away disappointed, winning 3-1.
Staal was the leading scorer in the 2006 playoffs and Laviolette the Canes coach in Carolina’s relentless run to the Cup. Laviolette is in his third season as coach of the Nashville Predators, who are on track for a third straight playoff appearance and will be coming into PNC Arena off a 2-1 overtime road win Thursday over the Washington Capitals.
Of the eight Western Conference teams in playoff position before Friday’s games, the Canes have victories over seven this season and a 6-5 shootout loss to the Anaheim Ducks. Carolina edged the Preds 4-3 in a shootout in early November in Nashville.
“There are not many games left, and it’s fun to battle against all the good teams,” Canes forward Elias Lindholm said. “Just try to enjoy every game now and try to get the win.”
Staal, who played more than 900 games for the Canes, had six shots Thursday but couldn’t find a way to beat goalie Eddie Lack, who had 30 saves.
“I didn’t try to think about it too much,” Lack said. “Just stay in my bubble and focus on what I have to do.”
Lack, after serving as the backup for four straight games, played perhaps his best game of the season. His diving glove save against the Wild’s Charlie Coyle early in the third period was top-notch, and he faced constant pressure from the Wild throughout the final period with the score tied 1-1.
“Eddie made some good saves, some desperate saves,” Staal said after the game. “He was a difference-maker.”
Derek Ryan had a first-period power-play score for the Canes, but the Wild’s Mikael Granlund soon answered with a shorthanded goal after the Canes were sloppy with the puck in the offensive zone. Granlund pounced on the puck after Jeff Skinner’s pass to Noah Hanifin, then teamed up with Mikko Koivu on a well-executed rush.
The Canes finally found another way to beat goalie Devan Dubnyk in the final four minutes of regulation. Victor Rask powered out of the corner and got a shot past Dubnyk, the puck slowly sliding behind Dubnyk and across the goal line with 3:24 left.
The Wild pulled Dubnyk in the final two minutes of regulation for a sixth attacker, but Teuvo Teravainen’s empty-net goal sealed it for the Canes.
The Predators, third in the Central Division, topped the Caps on Viktor Arvidsson’s score at 1:05 of overtime. James Neal also scored, and Pekka Rinne had 22 saves as Nashville (35-24-11) picked up a third straight win.
“Good team, playing well,” Canes coach Bill Peters said.
The Canes on Friday assigned center Lucas Wallmark to the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL so that he could play against the Ontario Reign. Wallmark, who has been solid in his first three NHL games, could be recalled by the Canes after the game.
Peters said Lack likely would start Saturday, smiling and saying, “He sure deserves it. I don’t know who could screw that decision up.”