Home Politics Hurricanes’ Staal, Fast, Niederreiter make up one of NHL’s top lines –...

Hurricanes’ Staal, Fast, Niederreiter make up one of NHL’s top lines – The North State Journal

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The Hurricanes have relied on the line of Jesper Fast, Jordan Staal and Nino Niederreiter all season. (Karl B. DeBlaker / AP Photo)

RALEIGH — They’ve been talked about all year, but the Hurricanes’ line of Nino Niederreiter, Jordan Staal and Jesper Fast has been as impactful as the Bruins’ Perfection Line of David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand through five games of the Boston-Carolina first round series.

So why not dive a little deeper into the Hurricanes’ shutdown line. Since the line is known for its nonstop work ethic, we’ll adopt that “W” and call them the NSFW Line.

It all starts with Carolina’s captain.

One could call Staal a unicorn, but he’s more like a mix between a Clydesdale and a unicorn.

He’s listed at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, but let’s be real — Staal is a mountain of a man who probably weighs closer to 245 and is among the biggest forwards in NHL history, especially if you don’t count the guys who made their living with their fists.

“I remember playing against him here, and you definitely feel it when you go into the corners with him,” Hurricanes defenseman Brady Skjei said. “He’s hard to move. He’s an absolute horse. He’s our leader, and we’re really, really lucky to have him.”

Then there’s the fact he’s one of the most consistent and reliable players in the NHL. He’s underappreciated by fans around the league because he’s never been a big point producer — since coming to Carolina in 2013, his best statistical season was a 20-goal, 48-point campaign in 2015-16.

But really, anything Staal does in the offensive zone is gravy. No active forward has logged more regular season shorthanded minutes than Staal’s career total of 2,545:48, and he ranks eighth all-time since the NHL started tracking it in 1997-98. Rod Brind’Amour, by the way, is sixth with 2,687:25.

He also sets the tone for the Hurricanes with a lead-by-example style that starts off the ice and continues on it.

“You look at Staalsy, he plays the same every single shift,” Hurricanes forward Max Domi said. “So everyone just kind of falls in line and follows suit. … He really doesn’t make any mistakes out there.”

Next up is Niederreiter, who joins Staal as one of 65 players since 2000 with at least six career game-winning goals in the postseason.

“Nino’s a beast down low,” Domi said. “He’s such a smart player. He makes all the plays he needs to make.”

Everyone knew Niederreiter could score 20 goals in the NHL: This year is the sixth time he’s reached that mark in 10 full-time NHL seasons.

“He eats the pucks,” Brind’Amour said, “and I think that helps in the offensive zone. We know he’s got a scoring touch. … Nino’s got a little flair around the net.”

Where Niederreiter has surprised this year is his ability to play a major role on a line that goes head-to-head with the opposition’s best night after night.

“He plays the right way,” Fast said of Niederreiter. “He’s hard on the pucks. … He’s playing the same way me and Jordo’s playing as well, so it’s a good fit.”

Niederreiter ranked ninth in the NHL this season in Corsi For percentage at 58.43% — just ahead of Staal (58.38%) and Fast (58.10%). Bergeron and Marchand were the runaway leaders on the season at 65.58% and 62.63%, respectively.

Niederreiter’s faced some criticism for his lack of offensive production in the postseason since coming to Carolina. But after scoring just three goals in his first 29 playoff games with the Hurricanes, he has three through five games in the Boston series.

Perhaps fittingly, Fast is last on our rundown. For a player that seems to win an award from his teammates every year for being a “player’s player,” Fast goes unnoticed much of the time.

“Nobody ever says anything about him, but he’s the kind of player I think everybody would want to have on their team,” Brind’Amour said.

But did Carolina know what it was getting when they signed the Swedish winger two offseasons ago?

“Yeah, yeah,” Brind’Amour said. “Especially from the comments from the guys that (played with) him. I mean, that speaks volumes.”

One of those former teammates was Skjei, who played with Fast with the Rangers for parts of five seasons.

“Every team wants a guy like him,” Skjei said. “I know when we were talking about trying to get him, he was No. 1 on my list.”

Fast quietly had a career year on the scoresheet, getting a career bests in goals (14) and points (34) while playing all 82 games. Only Skjei joined him among the Hurricanes with perfect attendance in 2021-22. Numbers aside, he’s tenacious all over the ice.

“Quickie, he’s probably the best forechecker in the entire NHL,” Domi said. “The way he gets in — he’s not the biggest guy, but he’s so strong and he’s so smart with his body, he gets on the pucks he needs to. He wins every battle.”

Fast also had the fewest penalty minutes of any full-time Hurricanes player this year, taking just two minors. Fast even took exception to one of those two penalties, a matching roughing minor with Philadelphia’s Rasmus Ristolainen.

“I think one was a roughing penalty, I didn’t even touch the guy,” he said.

Brind’Amour was a dominant defensive player himself, but he said Fast’s ability to be so good defensively without taking penalties comes down to an intangible.

“I would say the guy’s got it in there,” Brind’Amour said while pointing to his heart. “Just every day. Most guys can do it most of the time, part of the time. It’s hard to find those guys that do it all the time. And that’s what he is.”

Brind’Amour leaned on the NSFW Line throughout the season, and rightfully so. According to LeftWingLock.com, no line in the NHL with at least 500 shot attempts had a better goals for percentage than their 71.2%, followed closely by Tampa Bay’s Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Corey Perry and Patrick Maroon (71.1%) and the consensus top line in the league, Calgary’s trio of Matthew Tkachuk, Elias Lindholm and Johnny Gaudreau (70.4%).

In the series, the NSFW Line has limited the Perfection Line to just one 5-on-5 goal in the three games at PNC Arena while scoring twice. Meanwhile, Boston’s top line has three goals at even strength in the two games at TD Garden when it has been able to avoid Staal & Co.

Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy will do everything he can to untether his top line from the NSFW Line in Game 6. But even if Boston can claw out a win at home Thursday, the Bruins will still have to go through Staal, Fast and Niederreiter to advance.

“The three of them together are great,” Domi said. “Rock-solid line, obviously.”

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