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Gorman: Pens need super Staal

Kevin Gorman
| Monday, April 25, 2011

Forget about misery loving company. Jordan Staal just wanted to be left alone Saturday after Tampa Bay's 8-2 pounding of the Penguins, the greatest margin of defeat in club playoff history.

Who can blame him?

Staal is the Penguins' first-line center but hasn't scored a goal and has only two points in this Eastern Conference quarterfinal series. The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder is the net-front presence for a power play that went 0 for 7 in Game 5 and is 1 for 25 in the series. He is at the heart of the league's top penalty-killing unit -- which allowed the Lightning to score four power-play goals Saturday.

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said nothing Sunday to absolve Staal of the blame for the lopsided loss or the burden of responsibility that comes with being the top forward on a team missing its two superstar centers.

"You're talking about a guy who plays in every situation every time he goes over the boards," Bylsma said. "And there are other scenarios of the game that are like that as well. He could have a good power-play night and not a good penalty-kill night, and he's walking home not feeling maybe great about his game because of how much he means to our team.

"But our team and how we play and the emotions of our team, a lot of it is through Jordan. Last game wasn't good in a lot of regards; we don't feel good about the game. But now it's time to refocus and get on to Game 6, and Jordan will be a big part of what we need to do and how we need to play to be successful and how we have been successful in the series."

Staal has a tendency to be at his best in the biggest moments, and that is precisely what you should expect of the 22-year-old alternate captain tonight when the Penguins visit the Lightning for Game 6.

There's no shortage of confidence in their dressing room that Staal will deliver, whether it's heroics like having another three-goal third period like he did in Detroit in November 2008 and the short-handed goal in Game 4 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Final or by simply winning the majority of his faceoffs, being a dominant defensive presence and setting up a scoring chance.

"We all believe in 'Staalsy,' " winger Chris Kunitz said. "We know he can play big minutes, shut down guys but also help offensively. ... He's doing big penalty-kill minutes, too, so he's a guy that burdens a lot of the weight."

A year ago, Staal was a Selke Trophy finalist as the league's top defensive forward. He could concentrate on that end of the ice, allowing former NHL scoring champions Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin would produce the points. But Staal was sidelined all summer while recovering from surgery to repair a severed tendon in his right foot, then suffered infections and a broken hand. He returned in time for the Winter Classic, only to watch Crosby and Malkin get injured.

"It's been tough," Staal said. "Coming back and stepping into a role I'm not familiar with -- I'm not trying to be like Sid and 'Geno.' I know I'm not that kind of player, but I'm playing to my strengths as much as I can, playing well defensively and helping the team score some goals."

Staal shouldn't shortchange himself. He has been every bit as valuable to the Penguins' postseason hopes as Crosby and Malkin, even if he doesn't have their scoring touch. In the 2009 playoffs, Staal went seven games without a goal -- and six without a point -- before that short-handed goal shifted the momentum in the Cup Final, then he scored another in Game 6 when Crosby and Malkin were held scoreless.

"He's just one of those special players," winger Arron Asham said. "He's just a complete player. I don't think he's scored this series, but he's done a lot more than trying to put the puck in the net. He battles every shift. He's constantly in the trenches, blocking shots. He's going to score some big goals for us as this series goes on. It's just a matter of time before he breaks out and starts putting some pucks in the net. We're not too worried about it.

"He's definitely going to come through for us big."

As Bylsma likes to say, somebody has to wear the cape.

It's time for Staal to be a superhero for the Penguins.

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