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Benn's hat trick powers Stars past Blues

by Louie Korac

ST. LOUIS -- Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn had been on the cusp of an NHL hat trick 17 times without success.

He made good on his 18th attempt, and he did it at a crucial time for the Stars.

Benn's first NHL hat trick helped Dallas defeat the St. Louis Blues 4-1 at Scottrade Center on Tuesday.

"I've had two [goals] pretty early in other games," Benn said. "It's a nice little relief [to finally get the hat trick].

"Trying to help this team win; crucial time right now. I put pressure on myself to step my game up and do whatever it takes to help this team win. It's that time of year right now. All that matters is the two points."

Center Jason Spezza assisted on all three of Benn's goals, and the Stars (27-22-8) pulled within four points of the San Jose Sharks for the final Western Conference wild-card berth for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Sharks lost 5-1 at the Nashville Predators on Tuesday.

"Our focus coming into tonight was to have a little more energy, especially to start the game," Spezza said. "I thought it was a good start tonight, we brought the urgency we talked about. We did a good job executing. That's the difference sometimes.

Kari Lehtonen made 27 saves for the win. He had his bid for a second straight shutout end when Patrik Berglund scored with 7:30 remaining. The goal ended his shutout streak at 145:48, going back to Feb. 10 against the Boston Bruins.

Benn scored twice in the first period and Cody Eakin scored 20 seconds after Benn's second goal. In all, the Stars scored three times in the first 8:38 of the game and chased Blues goalie Brian Elliott, who allowed three goals on six shots. Jake Allen replaced Elliott and made 15 saves.

"I thought we played a real good game, jumped on them early," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "The structure of our game was great. I really thought that was probably one of our better all-around games of the year. We didn't get trapped in our own end very often, I thought we played the game real quick and we won the special teams battle."

The Stars played their second game without star center Tyler Seguin (knee) and won in St. Louis for the second time this season.

The Blues (37-16-4, 78 points) are 21-6-2 at home and fell six points behind the first-place Predators in the Central Division.

The loss ranks among some of the more disappointing defeats of the season, and that has coach Ken Hitchcock concerned.

"I think this is a team that wasn't ready to compete," Hitchcock said. "Weren't ready from the start. That wasn't the problem in Florida [a 2-1 shootout victory on Sunday]. We weren't ready at the end in Florida ... troubling. It would be troubling to not come back and be ready to play, especially ... Dallas has had the advantage on us the last two games early in the game and we've had to mount comebacks in the games to be competitive. It's concerning."

Benn's 20th of the season put the Stars on top at 2:47 of the first period. Spezza won a faceoff in the Blues' zone and John Klingberg got the puck back to the Stars' captain, who stepped into a slap shot from the high slot and beat Elliott.

Benn's second of the game came off a 2-on-1 after a missed pinch by Blues defenseman Chris Butler. Spezza fed Benn for a quick one-timer past Elliott at 8:18. Eakin scored 20 seconds later to make it 3-0 by following up Ryan Garbutt's bad-angled shot, ending Elliott's night.

Benn completed his hat trick on the power play when he took a puck along the right boards, skated into the circle and beat Allen with a top-shelf wrist shot to the near side 3:39 into the second to make it 4-0. It was the first hat trick by a Stars player other than Seguin since March 31, 2010, when former Star and current Blues left wing Steve Ott had one. Seguin had had five in that span.

"Then he's still two behind me or something like that," Ruff joked about Benn's hat trick. "I didn't realize that. Wow, that's awesome ... well-deserved. I thought he played a great game. I never would have guessed he didn't have a hat trick."

Berglund's seventh of the season came off a Paul Stastny faceoff win and wrist shot from the slot.

Blues defenseman Barret Jackman played in his 780th NHL game to pass Brian Sutter for second on the franchise's all-time games played list. Bernie Federko is first at 927.

But the mood was spoiled by the Blues' poor showing.

"Your first word, 'disappointing,' is hitting the nail on the head," Blues captain David Backes said. "It starts with me, starts with our line and leading the right way.

"The first goal's a blown defensive zone draw that Jamie Benn shooting from the ladies tees, he doesn't miss from there. We give up a 2-on-1 a couple shifts later and it's 2-0 pretty early. I take a ton of responsibility tonight. I think my line will own that as a group as well, and we just need to be better. I think the second half's a little bit better, but still, they skated all night and we kind of watched it and they outnumbered us all over the ice and really dominated the play."

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