- Katie Strang, ESPN.com
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Eric Staal is unsure of what to expect Friday when he
bring his struggling Hurricanes club to play the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
It will be the first time the 27-year-old captain faces the team since his devastating hit on younger brother Marc resulted in a concussion last February. The 24-year-old defenseman, who has yet to play a game this season, remains out indefinitely with post-concussion symptoms.
“He’s a big part of their team, a big piece to their puzzle and, me being the one that put him in this position, I don’t know if there’s any anger or anxiety towards me. I’m not sure,” Eric said. “I’m going to play the game the same way I always play and that’s hard-nosed, honest, and we’ll see what happens Friday.”
Eric, the oldest of four Staal brothers, has struggled to begin his 2011-12 campaign. Limited to three goals and two assists in his first 14 games this season, he has been held off the scoresheet for the past five games.
He insists that the difficult situation with his brother isn’t the reason.
“As far as that being on my mind going into every game, it’s not even close,” he said, instead suggesting that he simply hasn’t been able to find a “groove offensively.”
Eric defends the hit – a “body check” – and said he wouldn’t have handled it any differently had he known it was his brother before delivering the blow.
“I didn’t try hitting him harder because it was my brother, I didn’t try hitting him softer because it's my brother," he said. "It’s a hockey game. Things happen fast."
According to Eric, Marc was “disappointed” about the hit after it happened but said it hasn’t caused any fissure in their relationship.
“He was upset about the hit but he understands it’s a hockey game and things happen” he said.
Eric, who said he speaks with Marc frequently and plans to visit him while the team is in New York, hopes to see his brother return soon.
“It’s hard," he said. "He’s got a passion, a love for the game and he’s not being able to play right now. It’s tough for him, it’s tough for me and it’s tough for everyone in the family, but this is hopefully just a small thing, a little blip and he’ll be back playing like he was before he got hurt.”
The Rangers, who have not released an update on Staal since placing him on injured reserve last month, hope the same.
5dPierre LeBrun and Joe McDonald