When Eric Staal returned to PNC Arena late last season with the New York Rangers, he nearly scored early in the game and did some good-natured chirping with Carolina Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward.
Staal, the former Canes captain, won’t get that chance Thursday with the Minnesota Wild. Eddie Lack will be Carolina’s starting goalie, not Ward, Staal’s longtime friend and teammate on the 2006 Stanley Cup champs.
“He can chirp him from the bench,” Canes coach Bill Peters quipped about Ward, who has started the past four games.
Staal, 32, is closing in on his 1,000th career game, one of the ultimate milestones in the NHL. Thursday’s game will be No. 998 for the classy center, who played his first 909 games for the Hurricanes and was called by Ward “one of the best to ever wear the uniform.”
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“It’s a big number and you look at those thousand games and there’s quality and there’s quantity,” Peters said. “He’s done a lot. Great career and no end in sight, really. He’s still young.”
— The Canes should have forward Brock McGinn back in the lineup Thursday. McGinn, who missed seven games with an upper-body injury, worked on a line with Derek Ryan and Patrick Brown at the morning skate.
The other lines had Jordan Staal centering Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen, Victor Rask at center with Jeff Skinner and Elias Lindholm and Lucas Wallmark centering Joakim Nordstrom and Lee Stempniak.
The defensive pairs were Jaccob Slavin-Justin Faulk, Noah Hanifin-Brett Pesce and Klas Dahlbeck-Ryan Murphy.
— Center Jay McClement will be out a couple of weeks with an injury, Peters said. Wingers Phil Di Giuseppe and Valentin Zykov will miss Thursday’s game, both with upper-body injuries.
Di Giuseppe went through the morning skate, and Zykov did some skating before and after the skate.
— At his media scrum at the Umstead Hotel, Wild coach Bruce Boudreau was asked if he was concerned about “leaving Chicago, loud building, great team, same thing in Washington, now it’s going to be a team you should beat in an empty building.”
Boudreau’s reply: “I thought we played pretty well in Florida, same type of thing. But Friday night is their night that they draw well here. And when it is drawing well this is a really loud crowd, so I don’t think that has any factor in the game tonight.”
The Canes have drawn reasonably well on Fridays, but this will be a Thursday night game played opposite the NCAA Tournament. And Boudreau can be excused to a point in that it is the fifth and last game of a road trip that has taken the Wild from Tampa Bay and Florida to Chicago and Washington — a lot of hotels and air miles.
Another question was posed about the danger of playing a team that has been all but eliminated from playoff contention.
Boudreau: “It shouldn’t matter because we’ve got a lot to play for. … But these guys are only five points out. They’ve still got 14 games left, 14 or 15, and have the most games left in the league. It’s not impossible to go on a run. If I’m them I’m believing I’ve still got a good chance no matter how many teams we’ve got to climb over. So every game is vitally important for them.”
Boudreau was a little off the mark. The Canes are nine points out of playoff position with 15 games to play. The Wild (43-19-6) have 92 points and are one point behind the Chicago Blackhawks in the Central Division and Western Conference standings, which is all that matters to Boudreau.
-- The Wild held a practice Wednesday at PNC Arena but did not have a morning skate.
“It’s not the ice time people care about, it’s putting on the equipment all the time,” Boudreau said. “Changing clothes, putting on the equipment. Believe it or not, you start dreading it after a while.”