Staal gets a [hundreds of hats] trick in 'Canes' home finale | Sports

Staal gets a [hundreds of hats] trick in 'Canes' home finale

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You could say LaRose had a pretty good night.
  • Peggy Boone
  • You could say LaRose had a pretty good night.

Odd couple Chad LaRose and Eric Staal connected for nine points and the Hurricanes kept the Montreal Canadiens from clinching a playoff spot, 5-2. The Canadiens only needed one point to secure a berth.

The goals Carolina scored were few, but beautiful in the early goings. Though it took the team a little while to get warmed up, Staal and LaRose netted two apiece through the second and third periods. Which Hurricane would complete his hat trick and send the hats raining from the rafters? The one with a clear gripe against the Hurricanes’ sponsors, of course. Staal scored the second hat trick of his career Jan. 15, 2006 on John Deere hat giveaway night. It appeared he got that itch again after seeing nearly every head in the sold-out crowd adorned with a ball cap — the only such giveaway of the year — and potted his third goal with 1:15 left in the game. Sure enough, plenty of people weren’t so in love with their new hats that they didn’t mind tossing them to the ice.

I know I talk about the fans too much, but neither coach nor player forgot to mention them and I won’t either. As we saw last year, it’s easier to cheer when there’s something to actually cheer about, and maybe everyone was just really jazzed about the NHL All-Star Game coming to Raleigh next January (if you were at the game and didn’t realize this, you’re blind or oblivious because that logo flashed on the screen so many times tonight I’m pretty sure I could draw it from memory.) The Caniacs almost blew the roof off the RBC Center tonight. The announced crowd of 18,680 gave the ‘Canes the boost needed to play one of their most complete games of the year tonight.

Odd couple Chad LaRose and Eric Staal connected for nine points and the Hurricanes kept the Montreal Canadiens from clinching a playoff spot, 5-2. The Canadiens only needed one point to secure a berth.

The goals Carolina scored were few, but beautiful in the early goings. Though it took the team a little while to get warmed up, Staal and LaRose netted two apiece through the second and third periods. Which Hurricane would complete his hat trick and send the hats raining from the rafters? The one with a clear gripe against the Hurricanes’ sponsors, of course. Staal scored the second hat trick of his career Jan. 15, 2006 on John Deere hat giveaway night. It appeared he got that itch again after seeing nearly every head in the sold-out crowd adorned with a ball cap — the only such giveaway of the year — and potted his third goal with 1:15 left in the game. Sure enough, plenty of people weren’t so in love with their new hats that they didn’t mind tossing them to the ice.

I know I talk about the fans too much, but neither coach nor player forgot to mention them and I won’t either. As we saw last year, it’s easier to cheer when there’s something to actually cheer about, and maybe everyone was just really jazzed about the NHL All-Star Game coming to Raleigh next January (if you were at the game and didn’t realize this, you’re blind or oblivious because that logo flashed on the screen so many times tonight I’m pretty sure I could draw it from memory.) The Caniacs almost blew the roof off the RBC Center tonight. The announced crowd of 18,680 gave the ‘Canes the boost needed to play one of their most complete games of the year tonight.

“We tip our hat, as players, to the fans because what a display of an atmosphere that was tonight,” Cam Ward said. “We owed it to them to come out for all the amazing support they’ve given us. Fortunately we were able to deliver.

The momentum seesawed in the first period but it finished tied at zero. Montreal shelled Ward at first, then the ‘Canes turned around and almost scored three times on Jaroslav Halak. Ward had to hit the splits in order to stop Montreal.

A minute and a half into the second period, Carolina finally got the bounce it had been looking for when LaRose went barreling toward the net. Halak flattened out to smother it but Staal ducked his cover, backhanded it over Halak and into the net.

Staal switched it up a few minutes later, sending a no-look pass to LaRose, who took off. He scored one of the prettiest goals of his career, soaring through the air while puckhandling past Halak. He’s been better one-on-one with goaltenders this season than anyone on the team, except perhaps Jussi Jokinen. Afterwards, Montreal called its time-out and regrouped.

Carolina’s passing was crisp, its defense, solid. Ward and others wistfully wondered what might have been if they had played like this all season.

“You got a taste of what could have been tonight,” Ward said. “But it’s important to end the season on a strong note and tonight was a very strong effort from everyone.”

“We were one of the best teams after Christmas. We won a lot of games,” Staal agreed. “We gave ourselves a chance in the last few weeks, but it was too big of a hole.”

Perhaps emboldened by his fellow undersized NHLer’s success, 5’7 Brian Gionta beat Ward with a backhand to make the score 2-1. Erik Cole appeared to restore the lead soon afterward. The lights came on, the cameras flashed and the goal horn sounded, but Halak kicked it out before it crossed the goal line.

No. 28 helped Staal get his 28th when the ‘Canes captain scored his second of the night off a stunning cross-ice pass from Jamie McBain.

RBC Center staffers remove the result of Staals handiwork.
  • Peggy Boone
  • RBC Center staffers remove the result of Staal's handiwork.

Before the crowd had settled down, Patrice Bergeron brought the Habs within one again. Cole just missed picking off the pass and Ward definitely should have had that one. It was a difficult shot from well out, but Ward had a perfectly clear view of it. Then, Mike Cammalleri had an open net and a reeling Ward, but he sent it straight into the goalie’s pads.

LaRose got his second of the game off…you guessed it, a Staal rebound with 2:38 remaining in the game.

Script? Conspiracy? Devine influence? Whatever the reason, Staal cherry picked and wound up alone with the puck and an empty net. It was like the Canadiens knew what was going to happen, didn’t feel like fighting it and did him a solid. It was the captain’s 10th of his career, which allowed him to take over first in the franchise in that category.

LaRose got the only assist.

“It’s not that hard to be on sync with him,” LaRose said. “I got the big man for his [hatter] and it was well-deserved.”

Carolina will head to New Jersey for its final game of the year Saturday before the players collect their golf clubs and scatter out around the world for the summer. At the very least, they made the Canadiens’ lives a little harder tonight and sent their fans home happy.

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