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Staal ends drought, but can't help Canes clinch Cup

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Eric Staal finally broke through after the longest goal drought of his first playoff run. It still wasn't enough to help the Carolina Hurricanes win the Stanley Cup on Wednesday night.

Staal scored twice and had an assist to end his seven-game skid -- including the tying score in the second period -- only to see his big performance evaporate when Fernando Pisani scored in overtime off a turnover to lead the Edmonton Oilers past the Hurricanes 4-3 in Game 5.

This could have been Staal's crowning moment, hoisting the franchise's first Cup after the last in a season's worth of impressive performances. Instead, it ended with Staal futilely trying to save a bad pass at the blue line from Cory Stillman before Pisani grabbed it and beat rookie Cam Ward about 3½ minutes into the sudden-death period.

Now Staal and the Hurricanes are heading back to Edmonton for Game 6 with a 3-2 series lead and the feeling of an opportunity lost.

"It's tough, no question," Staal said. "The bottom line is we didn't win the game and that's what we went out to do."

Staal, a 21-year-old star in his second season, came in tied with Stillman for the playoff scoring lead and now has sole possession of it with nine goals and 18 assists in 23 games. Much of that production came on a 15-game scoring streak through the first three rounds, the NHL's longest postseason streak in a dozen years, to follow a 100-point regular season.

But the 6-foot-4, 205-pound center didn't manage a point in Games 6 or 7 of the Eastern Conference finals against Buffalo and then couldn't find the net in the first four games against the Oilers. That included not getting a shot off in the 2-1 loss to Edmonton in Game 3.

Staal's longest goal-scoring drought of the year lasted eight games, beginning in late December and stretching into January. Near the end of the regular season, he went seven straight games without a goal. It led to questions whether he was wearing down, a suggestion Staal denied.

He then went out and proved it with the kind of performance fans here have come to expect every night from their rising star. He finished with six shots in 22:37 of ice time, though he didn't manage a shot in the third period or overtime.

"I just tried to go to the areas where you're going to get chances," he said.

On this night, that meant hovering near the net. On his first goal, he took a kicked puck from Doug Weight just outside the crease and jammed a close-in shot toward Jussi Markkanen. The goalie stopped Staal's try but couldn't control the rebound as he sprawled on his stomach in the crease and Staal pushed it by him at 5:54 of the first to tie it at 1.

Then, after assisting on Ray Whitney's goal a few minutes later, Staal tied it at 3 when he shoved a shot between Markkanen's pads as the goalie tried to pin the puck at the right post at 9:56 of the second.

But Staal couldn't make the play his team ultimately needed most, failing to corral Stillman's slow cross-ice pass as Carolina set up an overtime rush. Staal and Pisani met at the blue line as the puck arrived, with Pisani stealing it and going the other way for a one-on-one chance that he fired past Ward to end it.

"He was coming at me hard," Staal said. "I didn't see him until the last second. I needed to make a play, and I didn't. I've got to make a better play than I did."