Oh well, Habs blow it

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:53 AM ET

MONTREAL -- As it turned out, no matter what the Montreal Canadiens did last night, it didn't matter.

That's just as well. They blew a 3-0 lead and lost 4-3 to the New Jersey Devils.

And to make the evening even more of a lost cause, they saw from the scoreboard that they weren't about to get the playoff matchup they would have preferred.

They'll have to open the post-season against the Carolina Hurricanes, not exactly an enticing prospect. The scores in games between the two teams this season were 5-3, 7-3, 6-2 and 5-1 -- with the Hurricanes being on top every time.

So the Canadiens were left with the job of trying to turn a third-period collapse into a positive. And they managed surprisingly well.

Coach Bob Gainey saw it as an opportunity to learn a lesson about the need to play a full 60 minutes against quality teams.

But even he felt the need to add, "We've had a few lessons this year. And we might be creating a textbook."

That one quip aside, though, Gainey was upbeat.

After all, when National Hockey League action began on Monday night, there was a chance the Canadiens would not even be in the playoffs.

So when it was pointed out to Gainey last night that the prospect of playing the Hurricanes might have its dark side, he said, "If you'd asked me 24 hours ago, I would have said I was really excited about it.

"We're happy to be playing. We're happy to be in the playoffs."

Alex Kovalev, who was sporting a seven-stitch cut over his right eyebrow courtesy of a first-period collision, asked the media to remember the previous Montreal playoff series -- the one against the Boston Bruins in 2004.

He pointed out that on that occasion, the Bruins dominated the Canadiens in the regular-season series. And, as he pointed out, he has never been on a team that was eliminated in the first round.

"I've always believed in this team" he said, "and I've always said that we're going to surprise a lot of people."

Last night's debacle, he said, was just a matter of over-exuberance. "We forced the play a little bit and we got caught twice."

"We had a good lead and it was something we were pretty comfortable with," Montreal defenceman Sheldon Souray said. "Obviously, we got too comfortable.

"They were a hungrier team and they wanted it more. It's too bad because we played a good 40 minutes."

They did. The Canadiens came out in vibrant fashion, beating Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur -- who always plays well in his home town -- twice in the first period. Craig Rivet and Tomas Plekanec were the scorers.

EFFORT

Then Kovalev added another in the second on a fine individual effort. At that point, the game appeared to be over.

But Brian Gionta got a pair to push his total on the season to 48, a Devils record. Patrik Elias tied the score with just under five minutes remaining, and Jamie Langenbrunner scored the winner with 2:23 left.

The Devils thereby ended the season with an 11-game winning streak, the longest in the NHL this season.

But in the Montreal room, the view was forward, not backward. They were looking at the Hurricanes on the horizon.

"They had a lot of success against us in the regular season," Souray said, "but I think we all know that doesn't mean too much in the playoffs.

"We'll adjust our game. We'll take a few things from (last night)."

One lesson, he said, would be that, "You just can't sit back and wait for the clock to run itself out and think that you have the game won."

Based on this year's precedent, that's not a problem the Canadiens are likely to encounter against Carolina.


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