BY DAVE CAMPBELL
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Eric Staal has been the ideal leader for the Minnesota Wild, continuing to produce no matter who he’s skating with while coach Bruce Boudreau searches for the most effective combinations.
This latest line sure looks like it works well.
Staal had three goals and two assists to combine with linemates Mikael Granlund and Jason Zucker for 14 points and propel the surging Wild to an 8-3 victory on Tuesday over the St. Louis Blues, who lost their seventh straight game.
“You want to bottle it and keep it going as long as you can,” Staal said.
This was his 14th career hat trick, his first in more than five years.
“He does it so quietly. He has played with a smorgasbord of players this year,” Boudreau said. “This is the longest he’s been on one line all year, and he’s never complained. He never says a word. ‘Whatever you need to do. Put him with me. I’ll get him going.'”
By scoring 13 times in 13 games in February, Staal raised his season total to 33 goals to move into the top five in the NHL.
“If he was playing in Toronto, he’d be up for the MVP,” Boudreau said.
Granlund had two goals and two assists and Zucker added a goal and four assists for the Wild, who have won five in a row overall and are 19-2-5 in their last 26 home games since Nov. 14. In three games together, the Zucker-Staal-Granlund line has a staggering 11 goals and 15 assists.
“Just try to work hard there and get those pucks back,” Granlund said, “and right now I guess we’re getting a couple bounces, too.”
Ryan Suter had three of his team-leading 37 assists, Mikko Koivu and Jared Spurgeon also scored, and the Wild’s eight goals matched their franchise record.
“It’s a matter of pride as far as I’m concerned. You give up eight goals? Come on,” Blues coach Mike Yeo said. “We’ve given up 16 in the last three games. We’ve always been one of the top defensive teams. The turnovers that we have and the lack of respect that we have for our goaltenders and for the game of hockey, that’s ridiculous.”
Vladimir Tarasenko scored twice and Alex Pietrangelo added a goal for the Blues, but Yeo pulled goalie Jake Allen for Carter Hutton after Allen gave up three goals on eight shots in the first period. The Blues have been outscored 29-10 during their skid while taking only one of the seven games to overtime.
“I don’t know what to say,” Tarasenko said. “It’s embarrassing.”
Until Pietrangelo scored just 15 seconds into the second period to cut the lead to 3-2, the Blues played a stretch of 171 minutes and 52 seconds where all they had was two goals by Tarasenko.
“We’re completely disconnected in our game,” Pietrangelo said. “It’s unacceptable.”
The Blues played without center Paul Stastny, who was sent to Winnipeg for a first-round draft pick on Monday just before the trade deadline. This has been a brutal month for a team that was on top of the Central Division or near it for most of the season until its recent slide.
The Wild have zoomed in to fill that void, climbing into third place with this fabulous last week in February, and the 33-year-old Staal has led the charge. He was originally credited with a fourth goal, midway through the first period, but the official scorers later credited that one to Granlund on a tip near the net. When Staal finished a rush with a top-shelf shot past Hutton , some fans tossed their caps on the ice prematurely.
“I felt kind of guilty,” Granlund said.
Staal’s last goal was a sure sign of a guy with a hot stick, with a poke that hit the left post . The puck zipped over to the right post and bounced back in front for Staal to knock in the second try. He flashed a sly smile as he celebrated with his teammates, the hat trick official.
Staal’s last hat trick came with Carolina on Jan. 24, 2013, against Buffalo. This is the 10th time in 14 career seasons he’s reached the 60-point mark. He has 31 assists, third on the team. … Zucker reached a career-high 51 points (26 goals, 25 assists) with 19 games to go in the regular season. He has 11 points in his last six games, and Granlund has nine points in his last four games. … The Wild have scored eight goals twice before, last on April 10, 2009, against Nashville. … Wild defenseman Jonas Brodin (broken left hand) returned from a nine-game absence. … Allen has allowed at least three goals in four of his last five starts.
Blues: Host Detroit on Wednesday, their only home contest out of seven games over a 19-day stretch until Mar. 15.
Wild: Play at Arizona on Thursday, followed by a game at Colorado on Friday.
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