Overtime had not been kind to the Carolina Hurricanes in their series with the Nashville Predators. After winning the first two games at home, the Hurricanes fell in double overtime twice in Nashville as the Predators evened the series.
Tied at the end of regulation for a third straight game Tuesday night, Carolina captain Jordan Staal took it upon himself to ensure a different outcome in Game 5.
Just over two minutes into overtime, Staal whacked at the puck in midair and managed to put it past Nashville goalie Juuse Saros.
— NHL (@NHL) May 26, 2021
“Not a lot of thoughts were going through my mind besides just wanting some bear hugs from the fellas,” he said after the game.
The goal was Staal’s fourth of the series and his 31st in 101 career playoff games. And the win puts Carolina, the No. 1 seed from the Central Division, one victory away from advancing in the NHL playoffs. It’s the third consecutive year in the postseason for the Hurricanes, who finished 2020-21 with 80 points (third-best in the NHL) and are seeking their first Stanley Cup since 2006.
The furthest they’ve advanced since that title is the Eastern Conference Finals in 2019, a team Staal was a part of. But his playoff experience dates back to 2007, when he made his first appearance for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who drafted Staal at No. 2 overall in the 2006 NHL Draft. He helped them win the Stanley Cup in 2009, and ultimately helped Pittsburgh to the postseason in each of his six seasons there.
Staal was traded to Carolina in 2012, and didn’t return to the postseason until 2019.
The 32-year-old has seen a lot of success in the NHL and hopes for more, but he knows the game doesn’t bring him ultimate satisfaction. Staal says winning the Stanley Cup with the Penguins at the age of 20 left him feeling unfulfilled and made him think about what defined his life.
“I really did have hockey as my identity and it definitely pushed me to the player that I was,” Staal told Hockey Ministries International in 2016. “But at the same time, it left me empty. I think I finally more or less realized that once I made the NHL, once I won that Stanley Cup and fulfilling all my dreams that I could ever think of, and then waking up a week later and realizing, ‘That’s it?’ It didn’t quite sit right at times.”
What he came to realize was that his relationship with Christ was the only source of true contentment. The way he viewed the sport of hockey and his career changed as a result.
“I now understand looking back, that hole you might search for can only be filled by God,” he told HMI. “It’s definitely something that’s been nurturing in me and that I’ve tried to nurture and tried to grow in my faith and fill that hole with Jesus.”
That perspective helped Staal and his wife, Heather, as they mourned the loss of their infant daughter to a terminal birth defect in February 2018. In an interview with The Athletic in 2019, he explained how faith and prayer helped the family cope in the weeks after.
“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.”
No matter how many more crucial goals Staal may score, he knows it is ultimately not about him.
“[Hockey] isn’t something I live for,” he also said in the interview with Hockey Ministries International. “I live for God and hockey is something I definitely want to give God the glory for.”
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