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Staal's third goal of game in overtime gives Penguins 6-5 win over Leafs

The Canadian Press
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The Hockey News
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Staal's third goal of game in overtime gives Penguins 6-5 win over Leafs

The Canadian Press
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The 18-year-old Pittsburgh forward was named first star for his huge role in the Penguins' 6-5 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs after he ended it 3:54 into overtime Saturday night.

Staal was ushered into the Hockey Night In Canada studio for a post-game interview with Ron MacLean and Don Cherry, who has been one of Staal's biggest boosters during his rookie NHL season.

"A little bit," Staal replied when asked if he was nervous going into the studio. "I remember watching Dougie Gilmour on there and him getting the big, fat kiss.

"I've been watching them my whole life. To finally get on there was a dream come true."

He certainly wasn't nervous on the ice in producing his most impressive big-league performance. His first NHL appearance in Air Canada Centre was witnessed by a regular-season record 19,620 spectators, who had the sensational Sidney Crosby on their mind when they arrived but wound up awestruck by the six-foot-four blonde from Thunder Bay, Ont., by the time they left.

Three goals including the winner - it was beyond his wildest expectations.

"I wouldn't have believed you," Staal replied when asked what his response would have been had he been told it would happen. "It just seemed like everything went my way tonight."

Staal was a star at centre in junior hockey with the OHL's Peterborough Petes. The Penguins are using him on the left wing on the second line with Evgeni Malkin and Michel Ouellet, while Crosby, Mark Recchi and Ryan Malone skate on the first line.

"I can't say enough about Jordan right now," said Recchi. "He's barely 18 years old, he's learning a new position and he's got 23 goals.

"It's pretty incredible."

Crosby also heaped lavish praise upon Staal.

'That was big game by him and he really stepped up," he said. "That was a shootout.

"But he was strong at both ends of the ice. He did a great job on the penalty kill, too, and really came up big for us."

His older brother, Eric Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes, scored his 24th goal Saturday. For a few minutes, they were tied at 23.

"I told him I was coming for him," Jordan Staal said with a grin. "It's just a matter of time before I get ahead of him."

Given the success of the Staal brothers, the strong Toronto fan base in Thunder Bay might begin to erode.

"Hopefully, Thunder Bay starts to turn to Carolina and Pittsburgh and root for those teams," said Staal.

In overtime, Staal took a pass from Malkin, stickhandled into the heart of Toronto's zone and whipped a wrist shot past goalie Andrew Raycroft. The Penguins bench emptied and there was a mob scene in the corner as Staal's teammates congratulated him.

"One thing with Jordan, he's getting better and better," said coach Michel Therrien. "He's playing offensively with a lot of confidence and he's doing all the right things.

"For an 18-year-old, we all have to be impressed. He's really picked up his game in the last month. We're really excited about the way that he's playing."

Staal's three goals resulted from five shots. He's scored his 23 goals on 82 shots. That's a league-best 28 per cent shooting percentage.

Also scoring for the Penguins were Malkin, Malone and Maxime Talbot. Malkin had three assists, and Crosby earned one assist to increase his league-best points total to 87.

Nik Antropov, Mats Sundin, Bates Battaglia, Bryan McCabe and Boyd Devereaux scored for the Leafs, who overcame a 3-0 deficit to make a game of it.

Pittsburgh remained tied for fourth in the East with Ottawa with 67 points each. The Penguins have two games in hand over the Senators. The Penguins are on a 11-0-2 run with 24 of a possible 26 points since a regulation-time loss Jan. 10 to the Florida Panthers.

The Leafs moved to within one point of the idle Tampa Bay Lightning, who are sitting in the eighth and last playoff qualifying spot.

"It was a crazy game," said Sundin, who earned his 700th career assist in the game. "We'll take the point for sure.

"In the third (period), it felt like it was our game. We got the lead twice, but they somehow found a way to get the goals pretty much right after we scored. We earned a point, but I still think we didn't play a very good hockey game."

Devereaux pushed in a rebound at 11:44 of the third and it would have been the winner had not Talbot retied it 5-5 at 13:49.

"We showed some character being down 3-0," added Battaglia. "But any breakdowns (we had) defensively, they're going to take advantage of.

"They make the most of their opportunities."

It was 3-3 going into the third after Toronto got three consecutive goals in the closing seven minutes of the second period.

"We lost our focus," said Pittsburgh coach Michel Therrien. "But we found a way to win.

"We were again resilient to stay in the game. I was really impressed the way we battled back to find a way to win."

Finding ways to win?

How about this: Toronto outhit Pittsburgh 25-5.

Yet, the Penguins won. That resilience Therrien was talking about had a lot to do with it.

Notes: Toronto had a 28-25 shots edge through regulation time. There were three shots on goal in overtime, and the Penguins got them all . . . On power plays, Toronto was 0-for-4 and Pittsburgh was 1-for-3 . . . The average age of the Penguins is 27.1 years. San Jose (26.8) is the only younger team in the NHL . . . Pittsburgh has three players 20 or younger with at least 20 goals - Malkin (27), Crosby (25) and Staal (22) - and that hasn't happened since 1981-82 when Edmonton had Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Paul Coffey . . . Wade Belak hasn't scored a goal since Dec. 20, 2003 . . . Toronto's next game is Tuesday when the New York Islanders visit. The Leafs play in Philadelphia on Thursday.

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Staal's third goal of game in overtime gives Penguins 6-5 win over Leafs