ATLANTA – Eric Staal wouldn’t mind playing a few more games in Atlanta this season.
Staal, the MVP of the all-star game five weeks ago at Philips Arena, scored two goals and added an assist to help the Carolina Hurricanes beat the Thrashers 6-3 on Wednesday night.
In 14 career regular-season games at Atlanta, Staal has seven goals and 10 assists.
“Personally, I have had some pretty good games in this building,” he said. “We needed to come in here and do a job. We need to make sure we stayed ahead of them.”
Scott Walker, Ryan Bayda, Joe Corvo and Erik Cole also scored for the Hurricanes, who have won two straight and eight of 11 since losing at New Jersey on Feb. 9.
Ilya Kovalchuk’s 43rd goal, second-most in the NHL, made it 5-3 with 7:43 remaining, but the Thrashers still failed to prevent their winless streak from reaching eight games.
Returning to Philips Arena for the first time since the all-star game, Staal didn’t need to work hard for his 32nd and 33rd goals. He made it 5-2 less than four minutes into the third when his wraparound attempt bounced off the chest of Atlanta defenceman Garnet Exelby and past goaltender Johan Hedberg.
“That was a weird play,” Staal said, “but I’ll take it.”
Thrashers coach Don Waddell, who thought the play should’ve been played dead, was furious with the officiating.
“We’re battling and fighting for our lives,” Waddell said. “You get a call like that, and it’s very disappointing.”
Hedberg was in disbelief.
“The referee forced me to play it,” Hedberg said. “He said he would give me a penalty for the defenceman kicking it back to me. We were so tired, we just wanted to change. I didn’t know what to do. Maybe, I should have held onto it and taken the penalty.”
Staal’s second goal was credited as an empty-netter even though Hedberg had yet to reach the Thrashers’ bench.
The Hurricanes improved to 25-10-4 when Staal has a point, 20-5-3 when he scores. He has eight three-point games, including back-to-back efforts after finishing with two assists in a win Saturday over Tampa Bay.
Carolina goalie Cam Ward improved to 29-21-4 after saving 21 of 24 shots.
Hedberg replaced Kari Lehtonen in the second period. They combined for six saves on 37 shots.
Corvo scored on the power play to make it 3-1 with 27 seconds expired in the second.
The fifth-year defenceman was skating inside the right circle when Sergei Samsonov passed across the slot from the left boards. Corvo began falling to the ice, but put his stick down fast enough to beat Lehtonen’s glove side.
Corvo has a goal in two straight games, nine overall and three since he was traded from Ottawa last month.
The Hurricanes, who began the game having lost five of eight on the road, now have 75 points, tops in the Southeast Division.
“Every two points are important,” Cole said. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s a division game or not. We didn’t have a great second period, but we came back pretty strong in the third period.”
Atlanta, which won the division last year and advanced to the playoffs for the first time, has 65 points, third-worst in the NHL and second only to Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference.
Chris Thorburn’s third goal gave the Thrashers a 1-0 lead 4:21 into the first. Erik Christensen made it 4-2 late in the second on an unassisted goal, his 10th overall, that came after he stole the puck along the left boards.
Walker forced a 1-1 tie midway through the first with his eighth goal. Carolina never trailed after Bayda scored his third goal with 54 seconds left in the first.
Notes: Atlanta hasn’t won in regulation since Feb. 15 at New Jersey. … Facing Carolina for the fourth time this season, Kovalchuk has three goals and eight assists. … Cole’s goal was his 18th. … Ward started for the 20th time in the Hurricanes’ last 21 games.