'Canes bank on it

Al Strachan

, Last Updated: 1:39 AM ET

MONTREAL -- It wasn't easy for Carolina Hurricanes forwards Justin Williams to get himself ready for last night's game.

"I had to re-focus and concentrate on hockey," he said afterwards.

However he managed to accomplish the feat, he should keep on doing it.

He was Carolina's dominant player, was named the game's first star, scored the first goal of the evening and assisted on both the others as the Hurricanes defeated the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 to even their conference quarter-final at 2-2.

The series now heads back to Raleigh, N.C., with the home teams having lost all four games.

Rod Brind'Amour who broke a third-period tie to score the winner. During a goal mouth scramble, the puck slid to the side of the crease and Brind'Amour snapped it into the net off Montreal goalie Cristobal Huet's leg.

But in his mind, it was Williams who deserved most of the credit.

"He has been one of our most consistent players all year. He has never had a bad game," Brind'Amour said. "Tonight he had a great game."

The Hurricanes came out with a fast start last night and it was doubly annoying to the Bell Centre fans that Williams was at the centre of it.

Because he was the player who accidentally put his stick in Saku Koivu's eye on Wednesday, they booed him every time he touched the puck.

Some of the Hurricanes didn't think that was fair.

"He is just a guy who would never do that sort of thing intentionally," said Carolina defenceman Aaron Ward, who was set up by Williams for the other goal. "He is as honest as the day is long. He is an honest guy."

But ironically, during a third-period collision, Williams clipped Montreal defenceman Andrei Markov and, as was the case in the Koivu incident, no penalty was called.

"I was just trying to get out of his way," Williams said.

When you compare the different areas of responsibility on the two teams last night, it was easy to see why the Hurricanes came out on top.

Both goalies -- Huet and rookie Cam Ward -- played well and made some spectacular saves.

Both defence corps were sound and each scored a goal.

But when it came to the forwards, the Hurricanes had a huge advantage.

The top Montreal line of Alex Kovalev, Jan Bulis and Mike Ribeiro didn't have a shot on goal.

On the second line of Radek Bonk -- who replaced Koivu -- Chris Higgins and Michael Ryder, only Ryder tested Ward.

When asked if the Carolina defensive game had been a major factor, Canadiens coach Bob Gainey said:

"It was more that our forwards weren't able to keep possession of the puck and had problems getting into their zone.

"On the other nights, we had lots of good scoring chances and didn't complete them. We'll be looking for ways to penetrate the defences of the Hurricanes and get some of our players participating in the results on the Carolina side of the ice."

Last night, the Canadiens' attack was being generated from the point, which is not their most advantageous strategy.

After they fell behind 2-0 in the first period, they came back in the second. Francis Bouillon's point shot was barely deflected by Alexander Perezhogin for the first goal, then Sheldon Souray's shot beat Ward cleanly.

But after that, Ward shut the door.

"We gave up a couple of point-blank shots and he handled them calmly," said Brind'Amour.

"If that was me, I would have been sprawling all over the place. He's maturing pretty quickly."

The affable Ward shrugged off the praise.

"I'm just excited to get a chance," he said. "I hold myself accountable to come up with key saves in key situations. That's what playoff hockey is all about."

For a rookie, he has a pretty good grasp of the concept.


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