Spring 2021 Magazine

Carolina Hurricanes' Jordan Staal shows resiliency in stunning upset of defending NHL champs

In yet another stunning result in the 2019 NHL Playoffs, the Carolina Hurricanes are moving on. Making their first postseason appearance in 10 years, the Hurricanes knocked off the defending Stanley Cup champions Wednesday night, a 4-3 double overtime win over the Washington Capitals.

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Carolina dropped the first two games of the series, but battled back to win two games at home. Washington crushed the Canes 6-0 in Game 5, but Carolina again won at home in Game 6. In Game 7, the Capitals jumped to 2-0 and 3-1 leads, but couldn’t hold on.

With Carolina’s win, it marks the first time in NHL history that all four division winners were eliminated in the first round — Washington fell to Carolina, Tampa Bay fell to Columbus, Calgary fell to Colorado, and Nashville fell to Dallas. The Hurricanes will face the New York Islanders in the second round.

Scoring the game-tying goal in the third period for Carolina on Wednesday was center Jordan Staal, his third goal of the series.

In Game 6, Staal netted a third-period tie-breaking goal, and later added an assist as the Hurricanes closed out a 5-2 win. He finished the series with six points (three goals, three assists), second on the team behind defenseman Jaccob Slavin, whose nine points all came on assists.

The stellar performance comes after a tough year. Staal missed 32 games this season due to a severe concussion, as he spent weeks wondering when he’d feel normal again. He was finally activated from injured reserve in February — a year removed from one of the most trying times in Staal’s life.

In February 2018, Staal and his wife, Heather, announced that their infant daughter, Hannah, had died of a terminal birth defect. They didn’t publicly reveal the cause, but said in a statement that it had been “a longer road than most people know” and that they had “prayed for a miracle,” but that Hannah was stillborn.

In a story this week for The Athletic, Staal, a devout Christian, discussed how that experience was a test of his faith.

“Just the good and the bad of life,” Staal said. “I think we’re hopefully rolling into some good days. You’ve got to, you’ve got to praise God through the good and the bad, and we went through a tough time, but we’re constantly praying and moving forward and, like you said, all those good things that came out of it that we learned, me and Heather and my family, and our faith and everything that’s grown.”

Staal’s strength and character were on display for his teammates and friends to witness, and “perhaps it helps put what is transpiring on the ice in this series into even better perspective,” wrote The Athletic.

“For a guy that really truly doesn’t question anything with regards to God’s plan, it had to be such a colossal struggle for him,” said Tripp Tracy, a TV and radio analyst for the Hurricanes, to The Athletic. “It’s one of those journeys where walking through the valley is no fun, but once you come out the other side, you’re stronger. You’re an even better and grateful human being, and he had all of those wonderful attributes to begin with.”

Staal, who won a Stanley Cup in 2009 with Pittsburgh, leads Carolina against the Islanders starting Friday in New York.

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