MONTREAL - With their backs against the wall and facing elimination, the Canadiens threw everything but the kitchen sink at Cam Ward and the Hurricanes, however it wasn't meant to be as Carolina escaped with 2-1 overtime victory Tuesday night at the Bell Centre.
Cory Stillman's goal only 79 seconds into the extra frame earned the Hurricanes their fourth straight one-goal win over Montreal and a second round date with the New Jersey Devils.
In what proved to truly be a tale of two series, the combination of losing Saku Koivu early in Game 3 and the emergence of Ward opened the door for the Hurricanes to claw themselves out of a 0-2 series deficit and ultimately win the series.
"The last four games could have really gone either way," said Cristobal Huet, who heard chants of his name and received a warm ovation following his 27-save perfomance. "The Hurricanes deserve a lot of credit for the way they regrouped and were able to bounce back after losing those first two games.
"We did all we could and we all believed we could come back right until the very end," added Huet, who deserved a better fate after allowing two goals or less in four of the six games of the series. "We never stopped working. But in the end we were just missing a little something."
That little something was all 5-foot-10, 184-pounds of Koivu. With their captain in the lineup the Canadiens were 2-0, outgunning the Hurricanes 6-1 and 6-5 before heading back to Montreal for Game 3. But once Koivu suffered a left eye injury following a Justin Williams high-stick, the series took a drastic turn.
"Saku is our leader, our best player," admitted Rivet of Koivu, who received a lengthy standing ovation after he was spotted on the scoreboard standing in the tunnel leading to the dressing room during the national anthem. "He gives us our punch, our desire. His loss was absolutely huge for us and we just couldn't seem to make up for it."
Montreal was only able to muster five goals over the four games without Koivu, thanks in large part to Ward, who capped off his series by stopping 25-of-26 shots. The 22-year-old rookie went 4-0 as a starter after taking over for Martin Gerber with Ward kicking aside 105-of-110 shots for a .955 save percentage. Mark Recchi also scored for the Hurricanes.
Sheldon Souray scored the lone goal for the Canadiens when he broke the ice on the power-play with his third tally of the series at the 6:31 mark of the first period. Souray picked up five points in the series (3-2-5), trailing only team leader Alex Kovalev (4-3-7).
Still stinging from the blow of seeing his season end in overtime, Kovalev refused to play the blame game following the Canadiens' hard fought loss to the Hurricanes.
"This is no one's fault, not a player, not a goalie," said Kovalev. "We win as a team and we lose as a team. Everyone battled and gave it everything they had."
NOTES: Aaron Downey, Todd Simpson and Mark Streit were healthy scratches... Game 6 against the Hurricanes drew a capacity crowd of 21,273, marking the Canadiens' 44th consecutive sellout of the season and 67th straight overall packed house dating back to 2003-04... Recchi's goal was his 100th career NHL playoff point...
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com