BOSTON — The words out of Paul Maurice’s mouth were almost music to the Boston Bruins’ ears.
“We’re benching him; we’re not playing him tonight,” the Carolina coach responded when asked after his team’s morning skate what star center Eric Staal has to do to get going against the Bruins in the Eastern Conference semifinal series that continues tonight with Game 2 at TD Banknorth Garden.
Maurice could hardly hide his smirk and his chuckle before actually addressing his star player’s goose egg in the scoring column through five head-to-head meetings with Boston this season. Obviously, the presence of Bruins captain Zdeno Chara has limited Staal’s production, but Maurice also wants those around Staal to raise their level.
“We have to keep in mind, this is never a one-game, one-man sport. Occasionally it is for the goalies. But there are four other people on the ice that need to be effective with Eric and have found a way to be effective with Eric against a very strong five-man New Jersey defense that they put with (John) Madden and (Colin) White,” said the coach whose team trails the best-of-seven series, 1-0. “Clearly, Chara’s in a different class of defensemen. He’s world-class. … We have to get to the other four guys that are on the ice with him and Eric has to find a way to use the four guys with him as well.”
Staal only managed two shots on net in Game 1. But he’s confident that as this series goes on he’ll gain an edge on the towering defenseman.
“I wasn’t frustrated in Game 1. I think as a team and as a line we didn’t generate enough moving our feet and cycling,” said Staal, who finished Game 1 flanked by the Hurricanes’ other top offensive weapons — Erik Cole and Ray Whitney. “I’m not worried about him too much, to be honest. I’m just playing my game. Hopefully, tonight we can be better as a team skating and in on the forecheck, controlling pucks a little bit more. If we do that, we’re going to get our chances. He’s good but he’s the guy who you can work on and keep on the attack because you’re going to get your chances eventually.”