Eric and Jordan Staal are about to go where only the Espositos, the Plagers and the McCrearys have gone before.
When the puck drops Monday night on TSN for the opening game of the Carolina Hurricanes/Pittsburgh Penguins series, it will mark only the fifth time in NHL history that siblings have skated against each other in the Conference finals. The last time a brother act such as this occurred was in 1974 - when Phil Esposito's Bruins faced Tony's Blackhawks. The rarity of the occurrence was not lost on the Staals.
"This is the best time of the year to play hockey," said Eric in a conference call held by the NHL on Friday. "When brothers are playing against each other in the Conference finals it's exciting not only for yourselves but for the rest of your family for sure."
There will be a lot of bragging rights on the line for the brothers, who have already accomplished a great deal in their young NHL careers. Hurricane Eric (the oldest of the four Staal spawn) already has a Stanley Cup ring to his name, along with four All-Star Game appearances.
Jordan, meanwhile, was a Calder trophy finalist in 2007 and, in 2008, helped lead the Penguins to their first Stanley Cup final appearance since 1992. Both players are predicting big things in the upcoming matchup.
"I'm due for a really big game," joked Eric.
"So am I," agreed Jordan. "I'm going to break out in this series like crazy."
After a solid regular season that saw him reach the 40-goal plateau for the second time in his career, Eric has raised his level of play in the playoffs, leading the ‘Canes in goals (nine) and points (13) and likely cementing his spot on Canada's Olympic team for the 2010 Games.
While Jordan has yet to repeat his offensive explosion as a rookie - where he scored 29 goals and set a rookie record with seven short-handed markers - he did enjoy a solid regular season, finding the back of the net 22 times and adding 27 assists while skating in all 82 games. In 13 playoff games, he has added a pair of goals and three assists.
Known as one of the better two-way centres in the league, Jordan could well be asked to shadow his older brother in the upcoming Eastern Conference finals, a challenge that both siblings say they welcome.
"He's obviously played well against the other teams' top lines in the last two series or they (Pittsburgh) wouldn't be where they are right now," stated Eric, sounding like a proud older brother.
"For me it's about focusing and playing my game no matter who I'm matched up against on the other side. It will be the same if it is against Jordie."
"With me playing there's always a good chance for hat tricks," laughed the younger Staal. "I don't know about Eric."
The rivalry also extended off the ice where the elder Eric conceded victory to the younger Jordan in one key area.
"His playoff beard is better than mine, mine is pretty bad," Eric admitted. "But he was a grown man at age 12 and I didn't hit puberty until age 20."
Despite skating against each other for the past three seasons, this will be the first playoff encounter between the two brothers, but Jordan likely got a good preview of what to expect by facing sibling Marc in the second round last season when the Penguins eliminated Marc's New York Rangers in five games. Marc wouldn't reveal on which side his loyalties lie for the upcoming series.
"I don't know who he's going to be cheering for," Jordan admitted. "He texted me last night and said that it was going to be a tough series to watch. It's going to be interesting to see which side the family rolls on."
With brother Marc manning the blueline in Manhattan and youngest brother Jared taken second-round pick of the Phoenix Coyotes last summer, this could likely be the first of many times that parents Henry and Linda Staal will be forced to watch their boys go head-to-head.
"To be honest I feel bad, but it's so hard on our parents when they are at the games," Eric said. "They don't know who to cheer for."
"I think their plan is to stay home and watch it on TV."
Regardless of who prevails, it will be the third time in four years that a Staal brother will compete for the Cup.
"Once the series starts, you are in that zone, you're in your game and once it's over, it's over," said Eric. "We're still brothers, we're still family. One is going to be disappointed and one's going to be excited. In the end that's the way it had to be and this is the challenge that we've got in front of us and we're excited about it."