Habs halted in OT

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:21 AM ET

MONTREAL -- The Carolina Hurricanes have been able to score only one even-strength goal against the Montreal Canadiens in three games.

But when Rod Brind'Amour got it with only 8:33 remaining in regulation time last night, the Hurricanes crawled back from the brink of disaster.

Four consecutive Montreal penalties in the next 10 minutes made the Carolina outlook even brighter and finally, Eric Staal beat Cristobal Huet with a slapper from the point to give the Hurricanes a 2-1 win and narrow the Canadiens' lead in the conference quarter-final to 2-1.

"It was kind of a seeing-eye goal," said Staal of his first post-season score. "We had a good screen in front of him and I don't think he saw it."

The unflappable Huet confirmed that Staal's assessment was correct.

"I saw the pass coming," he said. "I saw Staal get ready for it. I slid down."

Then patting to the top of his shoulder, he added, "Then I didn't see it until it touched me right here. That's a bad sign."

For the second game in succession, the Canadiens had to kill a string of penalties -- six of seven on Monday and five in a row last night. The last one of that string --to Tomas Plekanec for hooking, did them in.

They didn't complain much, but they did feel that when Justin Williams clipped Saku Koivu with his stick and sent him to the hospital, a penalty should have been called.

"It's too bad to be down a man in overtime," Huet said.

"I think they had a lot of chances to make a call and then they called Tomas."

As for Koivu, he'll be seen by a specialist today.

Canadiens coach Bob Gainey said: "I really don't know any specifics and I wouldn't know how to explain it to you if I did."

But the real culprit in the Canadiens' loss was the Canadiens.

They consistently won the races for the puck, emerged victorious in the one-on-one battles and created the majority of the game's scoring chances.

But they put the puck in the Carolina net only once, partly as a result of their own inaccuracy and partly as a result of a number of brilliant saves by Cam Ward, the rookie goaltender who has been called upon to bail out the Hurricanes after two disastrous starts by Martin Gerber.

Like Huet, Ward is always calm and under control.

"No matter what happens to Cam, he's probably the most even-keeled kid you'd ever want to meet," Carolina coach Peter Laviolette said.

But even an even-keeled kid had his heart pumping a bit faster than usual when last night's game started.

"I'm a fellow Canadian," Ward said, feeling the need to explain his minority status. "I can't tell you how excited I was. It's a dream come true to have my first NHL playoff start in Montreal. It was an unbelievable atmosphere. My ears are still ringing."

As for his own performance, he shrugged it off.

"That's playoff hockey," he said.

"Goalies come up with big saves. Fortunately, I was able to get lucky a few times."

On at least three occasions, the Canadiens appeared to have a sure goal, only to have Ward shoot out his glove and snare the puck.

But in the second period, Richard Zednik picked up the rebound of a Michael Ryder shot at the side of the net. This time, with Ward sprawling, Zednik didn't have to worry about yet another spectacular glove save and snapped it into the net.

Then the Canadiens' job was simple.

As Gainey put it: "It's important to finish the third period with the same lead you started it with."

But Brind'Amour had another intention in mind.

"All we wanted to do was to be able to wake up tomorrow and think we still had a chance," he said. "I think we were able to do that."


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