RALEIGH, N.C. - Nothing like a visit from the Great One to get Eric Staal scoring again. Staal had three goals in less than 24 minutes to lead the Carolina Hurricanes past the Coyotes 5-2 Friday.
Busting out of an eight-game scoring drought in a big way, Staal completed his fifth career hat trick in the final minute of the second period to help the Hurricanes claim their season-high third straight victory.
And that Wayne Gretzky was behind the Coyotes’ bench, trying to figure out how to stop him, made it that much more special.
“He’s the best player at it — and he’s watching, coaching against you. It definitely adds a little bit more to the game,” Staal said.
Ray Whitney scored two late goals, including one into an empty net. Joni Pitkanen had three assists and Cam Ward stopped 26 shots for Carolina. Shane Doan and Kevin Porter scored and Ilya Bryzgalov made 28 saves for the streaky Coyotes, who have lost four straight since winning three in a row.
But the story of the night was Staal. Carolina’s highest-paid player hadn’t scored since Nov. 4 — his worst stretch since he went nine games without a goal in 2006-07.
Staal’s slump certainly seems over now. He had two game-tying goals before polishing off the hat trick by giving the Hurricanes the lead for good with 45.1 seconds before the break.
Scott Walker threw the puck toward the net — and behind Bryzgalov — and Staal backhanded it past the goalie to make it 3-2 .
That goal came about 11 minutes after Staal tied it at 2-2 by driving to the net after his shot went wide off the back boards, Pitkanen tracked it down and backhanded it to Staal and he tipped it between Bryzgalov’s legs. His first goal made it 1-1 with 4:44 left in the first when he chipped in the rebound of Sergei Samsonov’s backhand.
Doan answered that less than 2 minutes later, giving Phoenix a 2-1 lead at the first intermission by picking off Anton Babchuk’s clearing attempt off the boards, skating in on Ward and snapping the puck past him for his team-best 11th goal.