MONTREAL - With four games now in the books, the Canadiens and Hurricanes are right back where they started. It will all come down to a best-of-three showdown following Carolina's 3-2 victory Friday night at the Bell Centre.
After seeing the Canadiens storm through town and claim the two first games on Carolina's home-ice, the Hurricanes returned the favor before sending the series back to the RBC Center for a pivotal Game 5 on Sunday.
Once the Hurricanes jumped out to a 2-0 lead on goals by Justin Williams and Aaron Ward in the opening period, Carolina appeared to be on its way to an easy night. But the Canadiens had other ideas as Alexander Perezhogin got the Canadiens on the board with a nifty tip-in of a Francis Bouillon shot from the point just over five minutes into the second for the Russian rookie's first NHL playoff goal.
Then with Craig Adams already in the box, Bret Hedican received a four-minute double minor. After pressing for the equalizer during the ensuing 5-on-3 advantage, Sheldon Souray unloaded a blast from just inside the blue line that Cam Ward is likely still looking for just as Adams stepped out of the penalty box.
But then 'Canes captain Rod Brind'Amour - a man who isn't making any new friends in Montreal these days - put the Hurricanes ahead to stay at the 5:54 mark of the third with his fourth goal of the series. Brind'Amour could have had another two-goal night were it not for his apparent goal late in second period being called back after he interfered with Cristobal Huet on the play.
Huet stopped 27-of-30 shots, while rookie Cam Ward made 23 saves for his second win in as many starts since taking over the goaltending duties from Martin Gerber following Game 2.
"All of us knew that this thing was far from over once we took a 2-0 lead in the series," admitted Craig Rivet. "This is an elite team and they've proven that all season long. Every game against these guys is going to be a battle and we know that."
The Saku Koivu's condition following his unfortunate eye injury suffered in Game 3 as a result of a high-stick was on everyone's mind, beginning with the Canadiens' dressing room.
"He called to let the guys know that he was out of the hospital and that he was going to be at home watching tonight," said Souray. "He had some words of encouragement, and since he's so important to this team and so well-liked and respected in this room, just knowing that Sak is feeling even a little better was great to hear."
With the series now deadlocked, head coach Bob Gainey would have certainly liked to pick up at least one victory in front of the home crowd, but he does not expect any surprises once the series shifts back to Carolina for Game 5 on Sunday night.
"Getting a win on home-ice would have been great for our fans who have given us so much support," said Gainey. "But now it's just time for us to dig in for the rest of this series that is now down to a best of three beginning on Sunday in Carolina.
"We know the enemy. We know what they're all about and how they play. It's up to us to come up with a strong effort in Carolina before coming back to Montreal on Tuesday and having our fans waiting at home to pull us through."
NOTES: Without Koivu at his disposal, Bob Gainey reshuffled his lines, adding defenseman Mark Streit to the lineup. In his NHL playoff debut, Streit also found himself playing a few shifts up front... Aaron Downey, Todd Simpson and Maxim Lapierre were healthy sratches, while rapidly-healing Steve Begin (knee) missed his ninth straight game... Game 4 against the Hurricanes drew a capacity crowd of 21,273, marking the Canadiens' 43rd consecutive sellout of the season and 66th straight overall packed house dating back to 2003-04... Souray now has two goals in the series to lead all defensmen on either team...
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com