MONTREAL - For the second straight game, three periods were still not enough to decide a winner, only this time around the Canadiens were edged out 2-1 in overtime by the Hurricanes Wednesday night at the Bell Centre.
Thanks to a little bit of luck and an untimely broken stick, Eric Staal made his first career playoff goal a memorable one by scoring 3:38 into overtime to cut the Canadiens' series lead to 2-1.
With the Hurricanes on the power-play early in overtime, Sheldon Souray's stick snapped forcing an alert Radek Bonk to hand the defenseman his stick as Carolina continued to press for the winning goal. Staal fired a shot from the point past a stick-less Bonk and over the left shoulder of Cristobal Huet to keep the 'Canes from falling behind 0-3 in the series.
On the heels of the wide open, end-to-end action that categorized the first two games of the series and the playoffs league-wide, the Canadiens and Hurricanes delivered a tight-checking affair that would have made Jacques Lemaire proud. After exploding for a combined 19 goals in the two opening games in Carolina, Game 3 was a much quieter night for the goal judge.
Richard Zednik finally opened the scoring on a second period power-play when he scooped up a loose puck just outside the crease before going upstairs blocker side on Cam Ward. Zednik now has two postseason goals leaving him only one back of team leader Alex Kovalev.
Following his two-goal performace in Game 2, Rod Brind'Amour continued to fill in for Erik Cole as the thorn in the Canadiens side by tying the game at the 11:27 mark of the third period to force overtime.
Huet kicked aside 34-of-36 shots, including the first 27 pucks he faced. Starting in the place of struggling No. 1 Martin Gerber, Ward made 27 saves on his way to earning the game's first star. The 22-year-old rookie made a number of key stops, including robbing Mike Ribeiro from point-blank range, a glove save on a Tomas Plekanec blast from the high slot and a breakaway stop on Francis Bouillon. Hearing Michael Ryder and Andrei Markov ring shots off the post didn't hurt Ward's cause either.
"I really think we outplayed them for most of the game and we found ourselves killing penalties the rest of the way," said Ribeiro after the Canadiens found themselves playing shorthanded for most of the final five minutes of regulation and overtime. "It's all about getting ready for the next game on Friday."
After finishing Game 2 with only five defensemen once Souray left the game with an injury, the Canadiens were forced to soldier on without Saku Koivu whose night was cut short after receiving a high-stick to the face from Justin Williams five minutes into the second period.
"All that we know at this point is that Saku received stitches on a cut around the left eye and that there was some blood," said Bob Gainey. "Saku was brought to the hospital and he's being looked at by our eye specialist Dr. [John] Little. When it comes to eye injuries it's always best to be prudent and take every possible precaution. We'll know more tomorrow once he gets examined more closely."
The loss to the Hurricanes understandably took a backseat to Koivu's condition in the Canadiens dressing room following the game.
"It's really tough to lose such an important part of our team and probably our biggest leader," admitted Mathieu Dandenault. "Hopefully he will be back a lot sooner than later. If not, there's a lot of character in this dressing room and we still lead the series. No one said this was going to be easy, we just have to keep on fighting."
The Canadiens and Hurricanes will get right back at it Friday night at the Bell Centre.
NOTES: Gainey dressed the same lineup that picked up the two wins in Carolina, leaving Mark Streit, Todd Simpson and Aaron Downey as the healthy scratches... Game 3 against the Hurricanes drew a capacity crowd of 21,273, marking the Canadiens' 42nd consecutive sellout of the season and 65th straight overall packed house dating back to 2003-04... Ranked third at 27.3 per cent to begin the night, the Canadiens power-play went 1-for-3, while the Hurricanes were 1-for-7 with the man advantage.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com