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Eric Staal leads surging Hurricanes past hapless Blues 2-1

RALEIGH, N.C. - The Carolina Hurricanes see the St. Louis Blues so infrequently that it's tough for coach Paul Maurice to draw up an effective game plan against them.

Somehow Cam Ward seems to have them figured out. Ward flirted with his second shutout for St. Louis this season, stopping 30 shots in Carolina's 2-1 victory Friday night that prolonged the Blues' road struggles.

Eric Staal had his team-leading 18th goal, Anton Babchuk also scored on the power play and Tuomo Ruutu and Sergei Samsonov had two assists apiece for the Hurricanes. They led 2-0 with 8 1/2 minutes left, held on for their sixth win in nine games and handed St. Louis its seventh straight road loss.

"One of the things that I think our team has really improved on is, we're not panicking when things like that happen to us," Ward said. "Despite them having some opportunities, we didn't force anything. We didn't panic in any way or form."

Carolina has earned points in 10 of 14 games in the month since Maurice was rehired as coach, and the Hurricanes began 2009 the same way they ended '08: by remaining in the playoff picture with a win against one of the league's lower-division teams. Two nights after topping Atlanta - which has just 31 points - they took care of the worst team in the West.

"There's no style points against a Western Conference team," Maurice said. "We don't see these guys enough to pick them apart."

Babchuk gave Carolina a 2-0 lead when he scored on the power play with 8:55 remaining, but David Backes made it a one-goal game 51 seconds later when he scored on a wraparound - the first goal allowed by Ward in a span of 41 shots on net.

Ward finished with 30 saves - with half coming in the final 20 minutes. He stopped the first 23 shots he saw from St. Louis after turning aside the last 18 shots of the Atlanta win, before Backes' late goal.

"We had a lot of shots, and a lot of chances on their net," Backes said. "If we had done that for 60 minutes, I would have liked our chances."

Chris Mason stopped 26 shots before he was replaced by Manny Legace with 1:22 remaining. Legace made one save in the 28 seconds he played before skating off for an extra attacker. Mason fell to 3-12-1 for St. Louis, which has dropped 10 of its last 12 overall.

"The toughest part is that we're right there," Backes said. "It's one-goal games. It's tie games. Third-period leads that we've squandered. Somehow, we're finding ways to give it to the other team. It's just not winning hockey, the way we're playing. We've got to find a way to crack that."

Staal made it 1-0 on a power play about 5 1/2 minutes in when he scored on Carolina's second shot.

Roughly 30 seconds into a hooking minor on David Perron, Sergei Samsonov uncorked a slap shot that Ruutu said hit him in the stomach. He recovered in time to send the puck to Staal, who hammered it past Mason from point-blank range for his fourth goal in four games.

"I just kind of wanted to suck (the puck) in," Ruutu said. "Eric was yelling really hard on the side, and I tried to just pass to him."

Not long after that, Staal left the ice in pain after taking a shoulder from Backes. The Hurricanes' marquee player - and their most durable, having played in 293 straight games since 2004 - returned with about 4 1/2 minutes left in the period.

That started a run of physical, hard-hitting play that also included an unspecified injury to Blues defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo later in the first as he attempted a hip check on Ruutu. St. Louis coach Andy Murray said Colaiacovo would be evaluated Saturday.

Teammate Tyson Strachan received a game misconduct midway through the second for striking Carolina's Ray Whitney from behind with his stick, sending him hard into the boards. That prompted Scott Walker and Tim Gleason to defend their teammate during a brief but energetic fracas.

In addition to the misconduct, Strachan received a major penalty for checking from behind while Whitney didn't miss a shift.

"They're playing hard, and they're big and physical, and they rattle around on us," Maurice said of the Blues. "And our goalie stopped them, and we won the game, and that's it. No apologies."

Notes: Samsonov has five points in his last two games. ... Ruutu has three points in two games against the Blues. ... Carolina RW Patrick Eaves left after the first period with what the team described as an upper body injury. ... St. Louis made its first appearance in Raleigh since Jan. 15, 2006. ... The Blues fell to 3-8-1 against the Eastern Conference.


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