MONTREAL -- Cristobal Huet might be right. That big rivalry between Lugano and Ambri-Piotta in the Swiss hockey league might be nastier than the latest chapter of the Maple Leafs and Canadiens duel.
Huet did what he had to do last night in the Montreal net to help the Habs to a 5-1 win over the Leafs at the Bell Centre on the front end of their two-game series.
The Leafs are now six points out of the last playoff spot and five out of ninth and a loss tomorrow night here to the ninth-place Habs will make their odds of going to the playoffs about the same as understanding anything CFL commissioner Tom Wright has to say.
It was pretty much the worst-case scenario for the Leafs last night with all the teams they're battling earning a point as a result of the Thrashers' OT win over the Devils and the Lightning's win over the Capitals.
Funny, but with so much at stake, it was a pretty mild start to the latest chapter in the NHL's oldest rivalry as the Habs jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first period.
There was more contact on a slow afternoon at Chez Paree than in last night's clash between the Blue and Red.
Earlier in the day, Huet was asked about being thrust into the middle of the Habs-Leafs rivalry.
"That rivalry between Lugano and Ambri-Piotta in the Swiss league was huge. There'd be fights before and after. Those people were always crazy," he said.
Huet has come out of St-Martine D'heres, France -- which if it isn't nowhere in hockey terms is surely within a baguette's length of it -- to become a star with Les Glorieux this season.
He made a huge save on Toronto's Darcy Tucker on a Leafs power play when it was 3-0 that kept the Buds at bay. He gave up a softie to Jeff O'Neill to make it 4-1, but it was pretty much over at that point.
HEAR AND THERE: Here's how bad the Leafs defencemen were last night: They were making Radek Bonk look fast and effective ... So, it looks like Ed Belfour's days with the Maple Leafs are over. A 40-something goalie with a 60-year-old back is never a good combination ... The big controversy in Leafs Nation is whether coach Pat Quinn was in the loop with regards to the status of Belfour's back injury. Are GM John Ferguson and Quinn talking? Ferguson said Belfour is all but done for season, Quinn was saying after the game he's "indefinite" and doctors were exploring options. I dunno, but does it really matter if Quinn and Ferguson are talking? There's a chance neither of them are going to be around much longer anyway.
THE BUZZ: Quinn was asked yesterday about convincing Leafs rookie Aleksander Suglobov to abandon those annoying back passes that all coaches love. "What was it Scotty (Bowman) used to say about them?" wondered Quinn. "There's two places you can't make passes like that," chimed in the Toronto Star's Ken Campbell and regular Cheapseats contributor, "at home and on the road." ... Huet got his start in net in France the same way a lot of kids in Canada do. "I didn't have a choice," he said. "My brother was playing and he put me in net every time."
REVELATIONS: I just finished listening to Fergie, Jr., give a pre-game press briefing about the status of Belfour's back. Maybe it's just me, but the only thing I'm sure of is neither JFJ nor Wright can answer a question in a language that I can understand.
SPECULATIONS: Leaf fans are noisier on the road than they are at the staid, corporate Air Canada Centre, which is often as quiet as a Bay Street boardroom. They made themselves heard last night at the Bell Centre. "All the people sitting in the Platinum seats (in the lower bowl at the ACC) are corporate people," said Leafs D Wade Belak. "They don't get to their seats until halfway through the period, so the lower bowl is empty. The people who see us on the road are the ones who sit in the purple and green seats (at the ACC). They're the most vocal people. They should switch them (at the ACC). Everywhere we go, there are lots of Leafs fans, especially here. The building might be evenly divided." ... The Habs made Huet's life easier last night by blocking 19 Leafs shots.
LET ME SAY THIS ABOUT THAT: Bonk has two goals this season. He probably doesn't want to get three, because knowing people in this town, they'll probably want him to get four next year.