April 25, 2006
Habs rally in RaleighHead home with 2-0 series lead
By AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun
RALEIGH -- Not often does a team overcome two fluky goals, a lengthy string of opposition power plays, and the evaporation of a large lead.
And do it on the road. As an underdog. After the opponents scored with the goalie pulled.
But the Montreal Canadiens qualified on all counts last night, producing a remarkably gritty performance to defeat the Carolina Hurricanes 6-5 in the second overtime.
They'll now be taking a 2-0 lead in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarter-final to Montreal, thanks to Michael Ryder's second goal of the night, but his first past relief goalie Cam Ward.
"I think their attention was on me, and Rides was open," said Chris Higgins, who made the pass from the corner to set up Ryder. "He got one blocked like that earlier, but he's a goal-scorer. Give him that shot enough times and he's going to put it in."
"I just came in as the third man," Ryder said. "Saku (Koivu) had come down the side and passed it to Higgy. I just went behind the defencemen and it came to me and I shot it five hole.
"They say to shoot it high, but one of those has to go in every so often."
The Hurricanes once again showed that although they talk a good game, they don't necessarily play one -- not in the playoffs, anyway. They breezed through the regular season, scoring lots of pretty goals and riding the goaltending heroics of Martin Gerber.
But the Montreal defenders have kept the Carolina scorers under control at even strength and Gerber couldn't get through the first period last night, being pulled after the third Montreal goal.
That pushed his post-season ledger to nine goals allowed in less than 75 minutes.
The Canadiens got things rolling on a play that coach Bob Gainey likes to see his players use. With the game less than five minutes old, the always alert Alexei Kovalev, who appeared to be doing nothing more than avoiding pressure behind his own net, fired a pass up the middle to Jan Bulis, who was well behind the Carolina defenders.
Bulis had little trouble snapping a high shot over Gerber's glove to open the lead.
"We talk a lot and we change things around when it's not going well," Kovalev said. "I know what Buly is capable of, and I know what I'm capable of. We just put it all together."
The goal appeared to rattle the Hurricanes. Instead of concentrating on containing the Canadiens, they started running around, and by the time the first period ended, they were down 3-0, thanks to Ryder's first and one from Radek Bonk.
A frustrated Gerber threw his stick down and coach Peter Laviolette got the message. In came Cam Ward.
But in the second period, a fluky goal got the Hurricanes aroused and started them on the way back. Matt Cullen's attempted centering pass bounced off Mike Komisarek's skates and slid between Canadiens goalie Cristobal Huet's legs. Three consecutive power-play goals later, one of which went in off Andrei Markov's stick, the Hurricanes had wiped out the deficit and taken a 4-3 lead.
At that point, many a team would have collapsed. But the Canadiens didn't. Instead, they got goals from Kovalev and Richard Zednik 36 seconds apart to go back in front.
Now it was the Hurricanes' turn to bounce back. In a wild turn of events, Cory Stillman forced overtime with Ward on the bench for an extra attacker.
"We didn't think we really had to change anything," Ryder said of the Canadiens' strategy. "We had been playing well five-on-five."
They continued to play well. Although both teams had chances, the Canadiens had the edge in play. And when Ryder popped the winner, it just meant that Stillman's heroics had done nothing more than postpone the inevitable.
"I know," said Canadiens coach Bob Gainey, "if we finished the way we wanted to, we'd be halfway home (to Montreal) by now."