RALEIGH, N.C. -
It's been five months since Eric Staal went this long between goals. If the all-star centre doesn't start producing soon, he might have to wait that long before his next chance to score.
As Staal goes in this post-season, so go the Carolina Hurricanes. They've have won all seven playoff games in which he has scored a goal, and are 1-9 when he doesn't.
One reason the Hurricanes enter tonight's Game 4 in danger of being swept out of the Eastern Conference final by the surging Pittsburgh Penguins is the lack of production from their franchise player.
The Penguins' young stars, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, have taken over the series, combining for 14 points and eight of their team's 16 goals. Conversely, Staal has been held to just one assist in the series, and has gone six games without a goal since he had two in Game 4 of the second round against Boston.
The Hurricanes' top scorer insists his touch will return with time, even if his team is running out of it.
"I'm counted on to score goals and counted on to produce offensively," Staal said Monday. "I need to be a little bit better in my end of the rink and focus on that first, and everything else kind of takes care of itself. ... When those opportunities come, they're going to fall - I didn't score 40 goals for no reason. I know what I can do, and that's continuing to attack the net, and those things are going to happen."
The drought is his longest since he went seven games without a goal in November and December, a stretch that coincided with the firing of coach Peter Laviolette and the rehiring of Paul Maurice. Staal rebounded from that stretch to score a team-best 40 goals, hitting that mark for the second time in his five-year career, and finished with 75 points, two behind Ray Whitney for the team lead.
But after a quick start to the playoffs when he had 12 points in 11 games, he's one loss away from the indignity of being eliminated by his baby brother's team.
"He's hard on himself - probably too hard on himself sometimes," Pittsburgh forward Jordan Staal said. "It's a difficult situation for him. He's been playing hard. It's just not going in for him."
The Penguins' underrated defence has something to do with that, too. They've kept several of Carolina's top players off the scoresheet during the series, holding Whitney and Erik Cole to two assists apiece.
"Those three guys ... they use each other very well," Penguins defenceman Rob Scuderi said. "They don't rely so much on one-on-one talent, individual skill, as they do on the whole line."