CAR@NYR R2, Gm5: Staal reaches out and slips in a backhand to tie the game

NEW YORK -- If the Carolina Hurricanes’ season was going to be saved, Jordan Staal likely was going to play a part.

Coach Rod Brind’Amour foreshadowed it during the morning skate Monday, saying that Staal was “at the top of the food chain” and that if the Hurricanes did not have his example to follow, things would be much tougher for Carolina with it trying to string four wins together in the Eastern Conference Second Round.

It was just words until the Hurricanes captain made it reality, as he often does, taking his team off life support with a third-period goal that kick-started a 4-1 come-from-behind victory against the New York Rangers in Game 5 at Madison Square Garden.

“When you’ve got a guy that does it the same way every night, just plays the same style, in your face, hard, every time, everyone wants to jump on,” Carolina forward Jordan Martinook said.

“He was incredible tonight. Everybody jumped on his back and he led us for sure.”

Staal helped deliver the Hurricanes to Game 6 in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; MAX, TruTV, TNT, SNO, SNE, SN360, TVAS, CBC).

The Rangers lead the best-of-7 series 3-2, but the pressure has been turned up considerably for them.

“We were clawing with our fingernails,” Staal said. “We gave it all we’ve got and found a way to get a win. Now we are going to have to do it all over again. We’re fighting for our lives. That’s really about it.”

The Hurricanes had nothing going for them in Game 5. They had failed on three power plays, allowed a short-handed goal -- unassisted, no less -- to defenseman Jacob Trouba and had generated very few dangerous chances.

Then Staal made something out of nothing, flying off the bench on a line change, taking a deft pass from defenseman Dmitry Orlov at the blue line, powering past Rangers defenseman Braden Schneider and going forehand-to-backhand to get the puck past New York goalie Igor Shesterkin, who had started taking up residence in the heads of the Hurricanes after he stopped all 18 shots he faced in the first two periods.

The pass by Orlov unlocked the whole play. He hesitated at the blue line, considered dumping the puck into the zone and retreating to the bench. Instead, he feathered a sweet pass to the onrushing Staal.

“It's not about my pass,” Orlov said. “I think overall Jordan, you see he goes to the net and makes a nice goal. On my decision, I just see I’ve got some time, my guy kind of gets away from me and I think they got a change. We converted. I think the third period we played pretty good. And that's why we win today."

Pretty good third period?

It could be series changing.

In all, the Hurricanes scored four goals, the final one by Martin Necas into an empty net, in a span of 12:56. Evgeny Kuznetsov scored for the second straight game, and Martinook also scored.

“It started with our [captain],” Necas said. “‘Jordo’ made a great play on the goal. Just a smart play.

“We believe. We believe in this locker room and about going game by game. We don’t think about winning two in a row, three in a row, four in a row. It’s about the next one and we are happy to go back to PNC [Arena].”

Ever since the Hurricanes fell into a 3-0 series hole Thursday, it has been about survival.

Four teams out of the 209 that have been in the dire straits of needing a reverse sweep in a best-of-7 series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs have navigated their way to safety.

It’s not easy and it requires a tremendous amount of fortitude and resiliency. Those have been the hallmarks of Staal’s game since he joined the NHL as an 18-year-old with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2006-07.

Then he was a two-way threat, capable of scoring 20 goals and marking the top center from the other team into submission.

Now, 20 goals may be a dream for the 35-year-old, who scored 10 goals this season and had yet to score in the first nine games of the postseason. But Staal still can check like a demon.

And as he showed Monday, his hands have not quite turned to stone yet. There is still life in them.

And now there is still life in these Hurricanes, something that was unimaginable after they lost the first three games, each by a goal, two in overtime.

“I’m so grateful that we were able to come back,” Kuznetsov said. “It’s good for hockey. It’s good for everyone to see [these] two beautiful teams compete [with] each other.”