Eric Staal says he has one thing in mind Thursday and it nothing to do with getting an ovation at PNC Arena or being nostalgic.
“We win tonight, we clinch a playoff spot,” Staal said.
In this case, “we” means the New York Rangers. It’s his new team and brother Marc Staal his teammate.
Since 2003, the Carolina Hurricanes always meant “we” for Staal. In some ways, he may never completely lose that attachment, and certainly not his bond to the team that won the 2006 Stanley Cup. But his aim for now, his only priority, is to win a Stanley Cup for the Rangers.
Ironically, a Rangers victory will likely end any lingering hopes the Canes might have had. For the seventh straight season, they won’t be in the playoffs.
“I’m not worried about the Canes, I’m worried about us,” Staal said. “That’s why I came here and why I want to be here. So I hope to get the win.”
Staal, the Canes captain for more than six years, was traded to the Rangers on Feb. 28 and quickly realized the Rangers still had a regular-season game remaining against the Canes, at PNC Arena. He knew that would create a flood of emotions.
Staal arrived Thursday for the morning skate to find a large collage of Staal photos that said “Thank You Eric” in a hallway leading to the visitors locker room.
“I thought that was really cool,” Staal said. “When you’ve been somewhere as long as I’ve been, you get an attachment to the area, to the people. For them to do something like that brings back a lot of memories and some moments you’ll never forget.”
When it was time to take the ice for the skate, his Rangers teammates put him at the front of the line to lead them out, only to shut the door behind him and leave him skating solo for a few moments.
“I was just trying to show them the direction the ice was at,” he joked.
And that was just the skate. The playing of the game, with Jordan Staal on the other side, will be a different sensation.
“I don’t know how I feel,” Eric said after the skate. “As I’ve said before, I’ve been through a lot with the Hurricanes and that organization, so it’s going to be a different feeling.”
Since Jordan Staal was traded to the Canes from Pittsburgh in June 2012, Eric and Jordan have been able to team up on brother Marc Staal of the Rangers when Carolina faced New York. That’s now been reversed and Jordan will feel outnumbered by Staals for the first time.
“It’s been an interesting game to think about,” Jordan said Thursday, smiling. “Playing against one is always funny. With two out there it will be even more entertaining. Hopefully we can get the best of them.”
With the Rangers having a few days off between games, Eric Staal was allowed to return to Raleigh early to stay with his family. His parents, Henry and Linda Staal, have been in town this week. With the arrival of Marc and the Rangers on Wednesday, the family was able to gather Wednesday night.
“We had a good time, hanging out with the kids,” Jordan said.
Hockey talk? Talk about the game?
“Not a whole lot,” Jordan said. “Just different things, nothing crazy.”
What was a little crazy for everyone was the day Eric was traded. The deal was completed just a few hours before the Canes’ game at PNC Arena with the St. Louis Blues, with Eric having only a few minutes to say his goodbyes after spending his entire career with the Hurricanes.
Not that it was a total shock. Trade speculation had been swirling for some time.
“We kind of had a feeling it might be inevitable,” Jordan said. “But once it does hit, it can still hit you hard.”
Eric Staal wrote a “Thank you” to the Hurricanes and Hurricanes fans for The Players’ Tribune this week, and it has been well-received. Staal’s words were heart-felt and the story something he said he wanted to do, felt he needed to do.
“It’s hard to really describe everything you want but I did it the best I could,” Eric said. “This place means a lot to me. But at the same time I’m excited about the opportunity I have.
“It takes a little time, probably longer than I would have hoped, but every day I’m feeling more comfortable and more confident with the way I can help this team.”