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Eric Staal scores three goals in third in Carolina's 5-4 win over Atlanta

ATLANTA - Ho-hum. Another hat trick for Eric Staal.

"A hat trick is fun," Staal said. "It's a little better if you can get it at home."

Staal scored three goals in 4:31 span of the third period to overshadow Bryan Little's first career hat trick in the Carolina Hurricanes' 5-4 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers on Friday night.

Staal's sixth career hat trick, and second in 17 games, helped Carolina win for the second time in their last three and fourth in six. With eight goals and 12 total points over his last 10 games, Staal is showing why the Hurricanes signed the star centre to a seven-year, US$57.75-million contract three months ago.

Now Staal seems to be putting the burden on himself to end Carolina's two-year streak of missing the playoffs. As the second overall draft pick in 2003, he helped the Hurricanes win their first Stanley Cup title in 2006.

"The big fellow is one of the great players in the game," Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said.

After Staal tied it at 3 on a power play with 12:33 remaining, Little answered with his third goal of the game, redirecting Niclas Havelid's wrister for his fifth goal in two games and 17th this season.

"Everything was bouncing my way tonight," Little said, "but still it doesn't feel great because we lost."

Staal tied it again at 9:18, firing a shot off the left post and behind Johan Hedberg. Carolina's assistant captain made it 5-4 barely a minute later, easily skating around Thrashers defenceman Nathan Oystrick and beating Hedberg.

"I took it to the net hard," Staal said. "I created some opportunities."

Slava Kozlov had four assists for the Thrashers, who dropped to 1-7-2 at Philips Arena since beating Carolina on Nov. 14.

Ray Whitney had three assists for the Hurricanes, who outshot Atlanta 15-5 in the third to send the Thrashers to their second loss in three games.

"I can't even describe how frustrating it is," Atlanta coach John Anderson said after watching his club allow its NHL-worst 130th goal in 35 games. "I thought we played a decent game. It's like we make a mistake and it ends up in our net. It's just the way it's gone for us this year."

After Carolina took a 2-1 lead on Patrick Eaves' goal early in the second, Little scored twice on the power play to put Atlanta ahead 3-2 with just 2.6 seconds remaining in the period.

"Hopefully the team can get back on track, and I can continue to be effective in front of the net," Little said. "It seemed like whenever we had a lead we would let up and they would take advantage of it."

Chad LaRose's eighth goal made it 1-1 as he used a wrister to lift in a rebound of Frantisek Kaberle's slap shot with 1:04 left in the first.

Todd White opened the scoring 10:58 into the first on a power play.

As for Staal, his second hat trick this season was the third in his family. Jordan Staal, his brother, scored three goals in the third period of Pittsburgh's 7-6 victory over Detroit on Nov. 11.

"You want to get as many as you can," Eric Staal said. "It's fun to have them."

Notes: Carolina goalie Cam Ward stopped 27 of 31 shots to improve to 4-1-1 since returning from a groin injury. He's 12-8-3 overall. ... Hedberg had won six of his last eight starts against the Hurricanes, but his record fell to 6-7-2 despite 34 saves. ... Eaves' goal was his first since last March 16 against Ottawa, the team that dealt him a month earlier along with Joe Corvo in the trade that sent Mike Commodore and Cory Stillman to the Senators. ... Hurricanes RW Scott Walker took a puck to the face and left the ice under his own power late in the first, but returned for the faceoff with stitches at the top of his nose to begin the second. ... Carolina improved to 33-13-4 against Atlanta, including an 18-5-3 record at Philips Arena.


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