ST. PAUL, Minn. — Eric Staal and the Minnesota Wild will start the playoffs at home next week.
He’ll take a buzzing line into his first postseason appearance in eight years.
Nino Niederreiter had two goals and an assist to lead Minnesota to a 5-3 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night that clinched second place in the Central Division and home-ice advantage in the first round for the Wild.
Zach Parise scored and had two assists, and Staal also added two assists to give the Wild’s first line eight points.
“We were dialed in,” Staal said. “I thought we were on the puck really well.”
While Niederreiter, Parise and Staal have all had their share of slumps this season, they’ve found some rhythm at the right time. Niederreiter has six points in his last five games. Parise has 10 points in his last 10 games. Staal has nine points in his last nine games.
“Hopefully we stay together and we’re able to learn more about each other and where the other guy likes to go and build up that chemistry a little bit,” said Parise, who has 17 goals and 11 assists in 31 career games against Carolina.
Charlie Coyle scored the go-ahead goal midway through the second period, and Devan Dubnyk shook off a shaky first to stop 27 shots for his 39th win. Jordan Schroeder also scored during a furious first period dominated by the Wild, only to have the Hurricanes answer each score and tie the game at 3 on just six shots.
Jeff Skinner scored twice to set a career high with 35 goals and Lee Stempniak had a goal and an assist, but the Hurricanes were eliminated from postseason contention on a night when they took their third straight loss.
“I think over the last little while we’ve done a good job of sticking with it, and this can’t be an exception to that,” said Skinner, who has scored twice in four of his last 14 games. “We’ve got to regroup and finish hard.”
Cam Ward made 31 saves for the Hurricanes, whose 9-0-4 stretch preceding the losing streak raised hope for a late run at the second wild card in the top-heavy Eastern Conference.
“We’ve done it right for a long period of time here recently, and we want to finish on a positive note,” coach Bill Peters said.
Minnesota increased its franchise-record total to 259 goals, which leads the Western Conference, and set a club mark with an average attendance of 19,071.
The Staal family, with three generations represented, was on the ice before the game while a video tribute to the oldest of four Manitoba boys to play in the NHL played overhead. Staal, in his first season with Minnesota, was the second overall pick in the 2003 draft before amassing 775 points in 909 games for the Hurricanes, for whom his younger brother, Jordan, still plays.
“Those are moments and memories you never forget,” Eric Staal said. “Sometimes, it can be awkward because there is so much focus on you individually when this is such a team game and team sport, but it’s a special milestone and it’s something I’m proud of.”
The Hurricanes, who haven’t reached the postseason in eight years, their only appearance since winning the Stanley Cup in 2006, welcomed Bryan Bickell back after a five-month absence following a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. He skated on the fourth line with Andrew Poturalski, who made his NHL debut.
The Wild skated in vintage Minnesota North Stars jerseys for pregame warmups, and Parise wore the helmet and gloves once donned by his late father, J.P. Parise, who died two years ago of complications from lung cancer. His mother dug them out of storage.
“I think the guys got a pretty good laugh out of it,” Parise said, smiling, “but for me it was special, and I know for my mom it was, too.”
NOTES: Including the franchise’s inception as the Hartford Whalers, Staal is second in Hurricanes history in goals and assists behind Ron Francis. He’s the 311th player in NHL history to play in 1,000 or more games. … The Wild finished 27-12-2 at home, the second-most home victories in franchise history (29-7-5 in 2006-07). They have 102 points, short of their record (104 points) set in 2006-07.
Hurricanes: Return home to play the New York Islanders on Thursday.
Wild: Hit the road to play at Colorado on Thursday.