Staal

Staal

Some players get collared with a reputation as a postseason invisible man and some are known as playoff beasts. Although he’s taken some criticism during his team’s Eastern Conference quarterfinal series with New Jersey, Carolina star forward Eric Staal obviously falls in the monster category.

Last night he proved it again with two goals in the Hurricanes’ 4-0 Game 6 win over the Devils. The series now heads to a do-or-die Game 7. The Boston Bruins will watch this series’ Game 7, and that of the Washington-New York series, with baited breath while waiting to find out the identity of their second-round opponent.

In willing his team to victory, Staal proved once again that he belongs among the upper echelon of stars in the NHL. Even though he led everyone in points during the Hurricanes’ run to the ’06 Stanley Cup, Staal flies under the radar skating for one of the most nondescript Sun Belt clubs. But his ability to change a game with a big play — be it with the puck, on the forecheck or in the defensive zone — will make him focal point No. 1 should the Bruins square off with the Hurricanes. Staal’s assertive play reverberates throughout the Carolina lineup, and winger Ray Whitney was the beneficiary of Staal’s exertion and his own hard work.

With both of these teams dead-even in terms of the play of their skaters, Game 7 will come down to — as it usually does — which of the two goaltenders blinks first. Game 6 was all about Cam Ward after Game 5 was dominated by Martin Brodeur. There’s no telling who will prevail when it’s do or die.

Elsewhere around the Eastern Conference:

•The Capitals chased Henrik Lundqvist for the second time in the series and forced a Game 7 with the Rangers.

•Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins wonders if the Rangers want some cheese with their whine.

•Another playoff cheap shot that went unpenalized forced Blair Betts to the sidelines and will probably rule him out of Game 7 for the Rangers. There might have also been a biting incident during Game 6.

•Pittsburgh has improvements to make, including bolstering the power play, before the second round.