It was a game the Carolina Hurricanes won’t soon forget, a game filled with drama and subplots and momentum swings.
The Canes traded captain Eric Staal to the New York Rangers before the game Sunday against the St. Louis Blues. Forwards Kris Versteeg and Riley Nash more or less vanished during it. So did the Canes’ lead.
The Blues came into PNC Arena on Sunday, put in 60 workmanlike minutes and earned a 5-2 victory, ending a three-game skid. It was the third straight loss for the Canes, whose playoff chances have drastically dipped in a week’s time.
While the Canes sensed a Staal trade might be coming, it came with sudden speed Sunday. Canes coach Bill Peters, addressing the media two hours before the game, said Staal was in the lineup but qualified that by adding the lineup could change by game time.
It did. And kept changing.
Early in the second period, Versteeg and Nash were gone. Both were on the ice when the Blues’ David Backes tied the score 2-2 at 20 seconds of the period, then soon departed. The Canes also were playing without injured center Jay McClement, who was listed in the lineup but did not play.
“It was a weird game, with everything going on,” Canes center Jordan Staal said. “It was a difficult game to get the mind right.”
The Canes took a 2-1 lead after the opening period as Jeff Skinner, playing his 400th career game, and defenseman Ron Hainsey each had a goal and an assist. Ty Rattie had given the Blues an early 1-0 lead, but Skinner answered with a sharp-angled shot for his 22nd of the season and Hainsey with a shot from the point.
A shorthanded goal by the Blues in the second period was the biggest of the game. The Canes had a power play in a 2-2 game, but a sloppy pass led to a steal by the Blues’ Scottie Upshall and goal by Kyle Brodziak at 11:10 of the period.
The Blues (36-20-9) had the lead and soon had control of the game. Robby Fabbri and Alex Pietrangelo scored 37 seconds apart in the third to push the lead to 5-2.
Canes goalie Cam Ward had allowed 38 goals in 20 appearances before Sunday, but the Blues fired 40 shots at him – 20 in the second period. Blues goalie Jake Allen had 32 saves.
The Hurricanes (28-26-10) were within two points of playoff position in the Eastern Conference but now face the loss of Staal and perhaps others before the Monday NHL trade deadline.
“We’re at the point where the business, long-term view takes over, obviously,” Hainsey said. “It’s the big leagues. It’s not fair, it’s not easy.”
Losing Staal, Hainsey said, would create a “very large void.” He was the captain, a veteran center, a Stanley Cup winner.
“He’s such a presence in the middle when he plays there,” Hainsey said. “He created a ton of chances but was snakebitten a tad on getting them to go in, but his overall game was positive for us.”
A week ago, the Canes had a healthy complement of players and were in position to make a playoff push. But defenseman Justin Faulk, after playing Tuesday in a win over the Philadelphia Flyers, has missed the past three games with an ankle injury. Forwards Andrej Nestrasil and McClement were injured Thursday in a road loss to Toronto.
Now, the Staal trade.
“It’s hard to see ‘E’ go,” Jordan Staal said. “You never really think about it until it happens, and it kind of hits you.”
Jordan Staal said the trade won’t have an adverse effect on his play, saying, “It’s what we get paid for – to show up and work. That’s what I’m going to do. My goal has always been to come out, work hard and be the best player I can for this team.”