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Eric Staal expects ‘weird’ return to Carolina

Eric Staal, here skating against Pittsburgh on May

Eric Staal, here skating against Pittsburgh on May 27 at the Garden, was allowed to go to Raleigh a few days early to stay with his family leading into his return against his old club, the Hurricanes. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

For Eric Staal, it will be a very familiar drive to PNC Arena for Thursday night’s game against his old club.

Staal, who spent 12 years with the Hurricanes before his trade to the Rangers a month ago, has been staying with his wife and three sons at his house in Raleigh since Monday night.

“It’ll be the same routine as for a home game,” Staal said Tuesday. “Just gotta make sure I turn left to the other locker room.”

The Rangers gave Staal permission to fly ahead to reconnect with his wife and three young sons and skip practice Wednesday before what he said will be an emotional return.

“There are certain situations and certain things that as a player, you don’t know how you’re going to react,” Staal said on a conference call. “Just a lot of unique emotions, from being there so long.”

One oddity will be playing against center Jordan Staal, one of his younger brothers, who has been in Carolina for four seasons.

“It’s definitely going to be weird,” he said, and different than playing against brother Marc, a defenseman and a teammate in New York. As a center, he said, “you’re around that player a lot more [than a defenseman]. There’s a lot of tie-ups on faceoffs . . . It’s a lot more of a closer matchup. And Jordan’s a tough player.”

Staal keeps tabs on the Hurricanes, and isn’t surprised that they’ve remained competitive after the trade deadline, when he and other veterans departed.

But Carolina has not made the playoffs since 2008-09, and Staal, 31, relishes the opportunity to compete for his second Stanley Cup.

“It’s why you play,” he said. “It’ll be a whole other ballgame once I get out there for Game 1. Frankly speaking, it’s been way too long . . . I’ve been watching this team on the couch for the last couple of years. I like this group.”

Due to be an unrestricted free agent July 1, New York might not be his final stop. “I’ll worry about that after the season,” he said.

Notes & quotes: Steven Fogarty, 22, a captain for Notre Dame who was drafted 72nd overall in 2011, has signed a two-year entry-level deal that begins next year, the Rangers confirmed. The 6-3 center will report to Hartford for the remainder of this season.

New York Sports