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Sekera, Gerbe help Hurricanes end Blues' win streak

by Kurt Dusterberg

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Andrej Sekera and Nathan Gerbe joined the Carolina Hurricanes without much fanfare last summer. They each came from the Buffalo Sabres, Sekera in a trade for defenseman Jamie McBain, Gerbe as a free agent on a two-way contract.

In Carolina, their stars are rising.

Sekera set up Gerbe for the first goal Friday, and the Hurricanes played a high-tempo game to defeat the St. Louis Blues 3-1 at PNC Arena.

Sekera, whose 31 points have already eclipsed his career best, leads Carolina in points among defenseman and is second in ice time to Justin Faulk, his partner on the blue line.

"He's good," Gerbe said of Sekera. "I've seen it for many years. Obviously he went under the radar a little bit, but he's showing it. He's playing with confidence. I'm real happy he's getting a stage to show it."

The Hurricanes (25-20-9) moved into third place in the Metropolitan Division with 59 points. The Blues (36-12-5) had a three-game winning streak end.

The teams traded power-play goals in the first period. Sekera made a perfect cross-ice pass to Gerbe, who one-timed a shot for his 12th goal of the season at 3:46.

"There was an opening and he found himself an area where he was wide open," Sekera said. "So I decided to give it to him. He shot it hard and he scored."

St. Louis answered 12 seconds into its first opportunity with the man-advantage. David Backes took a pass from Derek Roy in the slot and beat Carolina goaltender Anton Khudobin to the stick side at 9:23. T.J Oshie won the puck along the boards to earn the second assist.

Jeff Skinner gave the Hurricanes a 2-1 lead at 1:51 of the second period. Jordan Staal won a faceoff back to Skinner, who quickly moved between the circles and shot low to the far post for his 23rd of the season.

Khudobin, appearing in his 14th straight game, was sharp. He went post-to-post to rob Chris Stewart in the second period, then stopped Magnus Paajarvi on the back door in the third. Khudobin relied on the post twice in the final two minutes, when Jay Bouwmeester and Jaden Schwartz sent shots off the iron.

"The defensemen and forwards are playing great and I'm not facing a lot of shots lately," said Khudobin, who stopped 26 shots and is 12-4-0. "Every game it's great to have a team like this, and it makes it an easier game for me."

Alexander Semin scored into an empty net with 1:04 remaining.

The loss cost St. Louis a share of first place in the Central Division; it remains two points behind first-place Chicago.

"We didn't have a good response to their checking," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "[Carolina] came out, checked hard, played hard, skated hard. They were on top of us. We didn't compete for the puck until the last 10 minutes or so."

Hitchcock was particularly unhappy that Jaroslav Halak's 28 saves went unrewarded.

"It's too bad because we wasted a [heck] of a performance from our goalie," he said. "But I think the checking really determined the outcome. We weren't communicating and we weren't hungry. We had the body language today that it was too hard."

The Hurricanes have won five out of six and continue to give coach Kirk Muller the kind of effort he has stressed.

"Right from the get go, I thought our guys were focused," he said. "They came out hard. I thought we put together a good 60-minute game. We had to make this game 200 feet tonight because if we had turnovers they were coming right back at us."

The Hurricanes have relied heavily on the offensive contributions of Skinner, Semin and Eric Staal lately, but Gerbe is writing his own chapter of the Hurricanes' offensive playbook. He has played in all 54 of Carolina's games this season, avoiding the injuries that have plagued him in recent years.

With 12 goals and 26 points, he is on his way to surpassing his career-high of 31 points.

"I feel good, and I just want to get better," Gerbe said. "I'm getting a good chance to show what I can do and I'm happy about that. I just want to play. It's what I love doing."

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