St. Louis recorded his first career hat trick as the Lightning extended their unbeaten streak against the Southeast Division-rival Carolina Hurricanes to four games with a 3-1 victory.
St. Louis completed his hat trick with 1:40 to play in the final game before he joins the Eastern Conference team for the All-Star Game in Sunrise, Florida.
Kevin Weekes, who made 28 saves against his former team, stopped Fredrik Modin’s shot from the slot and Brad Richards’ rebound effort, but the puck trickled into the crease and St. Louis tapped it home.
“I’ve been close before,” said St. Louis, who has registered eight other multi-goal games in his career. “It’s electrifying. There’s no better way of doing it than when the team wins. You get to enjoy it a lot more.”
Maurice, who turned 36 on Thursday, watched his Hurricanes drop their fifth straight road game and saw an important player suffer an injury.
Left wing Erik Cole, one of the key players during the team’s Stanley Cup Finals run last season, suffered a broken left leg midway through the second period, falling awkwardly after being cross-checked by defenseman Dan Boyle.
“I’ve had worse ones,” Maurice said of his birthday. “We’ve gotten beaten 8-2 to San Jose (during the 1995-96 season) but then won our next five.”
Rookie Jeff Heerema sliced Carolina’s deficit to 2-1 with 4:43 to go in the second, but the Hurricanes fell to 1-8-0-2 in their last 11 games.
“Tampa had the jump on us,” Maurice said. “We played good. But after the midway part of the game, we looked like a team that played a hard-fought game last night (against Toronto) and had run out of fumes.”
The Hurricanes’ struggles in the second of back-to-back games continued as they slipped to 4-8-0-1 this season.
Tampa Bay, meanwhile, improved to 3-0-1 in the four meetings between the teams so far this year.
With one game left, the Lightning clinched their first victory in a season series against the Hurricanes franchise since the lockout-abbreviated 1994-95 campaign, when Carolina still competed as the Hartford Whalers.
The hat trick by St. Louis marked Tampa Bay’s first since Vincent LeCavalier scored three times on November 8, 2002 against Pittsburgh.
Carolina defenseman Sean Hill was serving a hooking minor when St. Louis broke the scoreless tie 3:23 into the second.
Boyle’s pass from the top of the left faceoff circle found the 27-year-old right wing along the goal line. St. Louis deked Weekes, getting the goalie to move, and slipped the puck between his pads.
“Where are we without him?,” Lightning coach John Tortorella asked, regarding the 5-9, 181-pound St. Louis. “He’s played so consistently and you think of the tough road for him to be an NHL player. But he just continues to tick, tick, tick.”
The teams were skating 4-on-4 just over 9 1/2 minutes later when Vaclav Prospal forced a defensive-zone turnover. The seventh-year center fed St. Louis, whose wrister from the slot made it 2-0.
Already having eclipsed his career high of 18 goals during the 2000-01 season, St. Louis increased his tally to 27 after 52 games.
As Tampa Bay remained three points behind Washington atop the Southeast Division entering the All-Star break, Carolina’s players continued to fall.
Cole is tied for third on the Hurricanes’ goal-scoring list with Rod Brind’Amour, who was placed on injured reserve January 21 after undergoing hand surgery.
The 24-year-old Cole tallied six goals and three assists during Carolina’s run to the 2002 Stanley Cup Finals.
The Hurricanes enter the break 13th in the 15-team Eastern Conference.
“We need these points,” defenseman Bret Hedican said. “We know we’re a desperate team right now. This team has just got to find a way to put the puck in the net and win games. Right now, we are having a tough time and we’ve got to fight through it.”