Eric Staal deals harsh blow to Hurricanes’ hopes

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This post’s main image is from the 2018 NHL All-Star Game, a reminder that Eric Staal is still near and dear to many Carolina Hurricanes fans, even as he revitalizes his career with the Minnesota Wild.

Cruelly, Staal has rebounded to be just the type of player a mostly-well-built Hurricanes team still needs more of: a gamebreaker.

Staal played a role in possibly breaking the Hurricanes’ playoff push on Tuesday, helping the Wild build an early 5-0 lead before eventually winning 6-2. Staal scored two goals to push his season total to a startlingly impressive 36 goals (waits for even more Hart Trophy comments, because we don’t have enough of those).

This goal might be seen as a dagger. Hey, at least it was an ornate one?

Painfully, Staal wasn’t the only former Hurricanes player to dig the knife in deeper, as Matt Cullen also added to the agony with a goal.

Ouch.

It was bad enough to lose by such a margin, powered in part by a player who was once such an integral part of this team. That’s not the only setback for Carolina, however, as the East’s other bubble teams gained steam on Tuesday. The Devils clobbered the Canadiens before Montreal made the score more respectable, the Blue Jackets beat the Golden Knights 4-1, and the Panthers salvaged a “charity point” by making it to overtime before the Lightning beat them thanks to a beautiful Brayden Point goal.

With 69 points in 67 games played, the Hurricanes enjoy a rosier playoff outlook than the Islanders (67 in 67 games) and Rangers (66 in 67 games), but the positives run out quickly.

Updated races for wild card spots:

1. Devils: 76 points in 67 GP, 30 ROW
2. Blue Jackets: 73 points in 67 GP, 28 ROW

Panthers: 71 points in 64 GP, 30 ROW
Hurricanes: 69 points in 67 GP, 26 ROW

Yeah, losses like these really hurt, particularly when such a familiar face is adding to the discomfort.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.