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Hurricanes 4, Blues 2 @NHLdotcom

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Eric Staal has defied the odds during a lifetime of playing hockey. At 21 years old, he finally lost his first tooth - or at least part of it.

``I've got a lot chin scars, but I've never lost a tooth,'' he said. ``Maybe I'll smarten up and wear a mouth guard from now on.''

The dynamic scorer had three goals, including the go-ahead one off a beautiful behind-the-back pass from Erik Cole, and the Carolina Hurricanes rallied to beat the St. Louis Blues 4-2 on Sunday for their seventh straight victory.

Six have come at the RBC Center, where the Hurricanes improved the NHL's best home record to 20-4-1. With 64 points, they moved in front of Philadelphia, Ottawa and Detroit for the best record in the league.

Backup goaltender Cam Ward made 31 saves to win his second start in seven games. But Staal did more than his part, too.

``I'll offer my goalie mask to him anytime he needs it,'' Ward quipped.

Staal got his second career NHL hat trick after missing part of the first period following a high stick from Dennis Wideman, and he returned with stitches in his lip and minus about half of one of his incisors. He was held without a goal over the previous eight games but broke out in a big away against the worst team in the league.

``His game, I thought, was right on the money, and he just didn't see the results,'' Carolina coach Peter Laviolette said. ``When your game is good, results usually follow, whether it's team-wise or individual.''

Just seconds after a penalty on St. Louis' Dallas Drake ended midway through the third period, Justin Williams carried the puck behind the net and centered it to Cole. He quickly sent it to Staal on the wing, and the shot barely got through goaltender Curtis Sanford to give Staal his second goal and Carolina its first lead.

``He gave a yell for it, and I knew he was coming off that back corner,'' Cole said. ``I wasn't going to be able to get a shot off. You've just got to get it over there, and he'll take care of it.''

Staal added his third with 9 seconds left to start a shower of hats from the crowd. Thanks to a sponsor's promotion, about 18,000 of them were handed out before the game, and hundreds ended up on the ice.

``Thanks to John Deere and to Eric Staal,'' Laviolette said with a smile.

The Blues lost their sixth straight despite a spirited effort. They had only two goals over the first four games of a five-game road trip but jumped on Carolina early, when Petr Cajanek deflected a shot by Dean McAmmond past Ward only 2 minutes after the opening faceoff.

``We played hard, I thought we had good effort,'' Blues coach Mike Kitchen said.

Later in the period, with Williams in the penalty box for roughing, Mike Sillinger took a nifty pass from Drake and easily beat Ward for a 2-0 lead. That left the Blues 2-for-2 with the man advantage through the opening 10 1/2 minutes after they converted only one of their previous 24 chances.

``They work very hard and they have nothing to lose, and that makes them dangerous,'' Laviolette said. ``It seemed to me like we were on our heels a little bit in the first period. We need to be on our toes.''

Staal assisted on Ray Whitney's goal to bring the Hurricanes within 2-1 early in the second period, then tied it by poking in a rebound before the next intermission.

Both of those came on 5-on-3 advantages - giving Carolina three power-play goals - and the Blues got both of their goals with the man advantage.

``If we had been more disciplined - granted, there were some bad calls, but we needed to stay out of the box more,'' St. Louis defenseman Bryce Salvador said. ``Five-on-five, we have lots of success, but we took too many penalties and it cost us.''

Particularly when Staal took over. Now, he will make the dreaded trip to the dentist.

``I don't even want to know what they're going to do, to tell you the truth,'' he said. ``I'm not looking forward to it, I'm not a huge fan of the dentist.''

Notes: The crowd of 18,730 gave the Hurricanes their second sellout in the past three games on Military Appreciation Day. ... A nasty collision early in the first period left Cole and Sillinger dazed on the ice. Cole was heading to the bench for a line change just as Sillinger lowered his shoulder for a check, and both players slammed into the door opening. Neither missed much time.

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