RALEIGH, N.C. — In a corridor of PNC Arena just past a handmade poster with dozens of photographs of Eric Staal through his 12 seasons here, with a playoff-like level of media circling, one coach expected a vintage performance from the former Hurricanes captain Thursday night. The other believed that he would be relieved once the emotional journey home was over.
“He’s going to be fired up to play,” said Bill Peters, now in his second season behind the Carolina bench, as the Hurricanes prepared to face the Rangers. “He’s going to be real good tonight. The team’s going to be good, and we’ve got to match that.”
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault wasn’t as certain. “I would say he wants to play and get it over with right now,” he said. “Everybody is a little different. I think for him this is going to be a very emotional time for him and his family. He’s been here all his career. He’s won here. I don’t know. I imagine he’ll be going through a lot of emotions as far as professionally, but on a personal level, his kids all grew up here. We’ll let him have fun with it and hopefully, he’ll do well.”
Going into Thursday, the Rangers had a nine-game winning streak against the Hurricanes and were 19-1-0 in their last 20 games against them . . . A win would give Vigneault sole possession of sixth place in franchise coaching victories, passing Roger Neilson . . . Oscar Lindberg and Dylan McIlrath were healthy scratches. Lindberg hasn’t played since March 13. McIlrath suffered a knee injury March 6 but has been cleared to play . . . Mats Zuccarello was one point away from 200 in the NHL. He is expected to play in his 300th game on Saturday . . . Jesper Fast was selected in the 10th round (157th overall) of the 2010 NHL Draft. The Rangers acquired the pick from the Hurricanes.