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Habs storm past the Hurricanes

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens
Huet makes 42 saves as Canadiens take series opener

Cristobal Huet was rock solid in his NHL playoff debut, turning aside 42 of 43 shots by the Hurricanes.

RALEIGH (AP) -- The playoffs truly are a whole new season.  After dropping all four meetings versus Carolina during the regular season, the Canadiens did a complete turnaround against the Hurricanes, blowing them away 6-1 at the RBC Center.

Cristobal Huet made 43 saves, 12 players recorded points and the Canadiens made up for four lopsided losses to Carolina during the regular season with a 6-1 victory in the opener of their Eastern Conference series.

Alex Kovalev had two goals and Francis Bouillon, Radek Bonk, Chris Higgins and Sheldon Souray each added one for Montreal, which ended the regular season with four losses in its past six games.

"It's playoff hockey," Bouillon said. "We could've won 2-1, or 3-2 in overtime. It just so happened it was 6-1. We just need to forget about this win, and we need to come back and play our style of game."

The Hurricanes earned the second seed in the conference with the best year in franchise history, a run that included a 4-0 record against Montreal. None were really close, with the combined margin of the final three 20-6.

And when Matt Cullen scored only 50 seconds into the first period, it appeared the domination might continue. But the Canadiens soon began controlling the action and stymied Carolina's high-powered offense for the rest of the game, with Huet having the biggest role.

"For us, it seemed like the puck didn't want to bounce in," Cullen said. "You've got to give their goalie credit. He played well."

Huet, who lost his final two regular-season starts, got the nod over David Aebischer for the start in Game 1.

His performance made coach and general manager Bob Gainey look like a genius -- and made Montreal the second No. 7 seed to take a 1-0 lead in the playoffs. Colorado won at second-seeded Dallas earlier Saturday.

"It's good to get the win, first, and for me to have a good game, it is nice," Huet said. "I try to do my best, and sometimes it's not working, sometimes it works. You just forget if you get scored on, and try to bounce back."

The Hurricanes took nine of the first 10 shots and held a 35-14 advantage following two periods. One stretch was particularly frustrating, when they failed to score during three Montreal penalties in a span of about 3½ minutes.

That included 55 seconds of 5-on-3, but Huet stopped everything with the help of his defense as the Canadiens finished with 22 blocked shots.

"That was a huge turning point," Carolina captain Rod Brind'Amour said. "You've got to score on your 5-on-3s. That's very, very important. We didn't do it. Generally when you don't score on those, that's a tell-tale sign of what is going to happen."

When the third penalty on Niklas Sundstrom ended, the standing-room-only crowd at the RBC Center unleashed a chorus of boos. They quickly turned to anguish when Montreal scored 10 seconds later. As Sundstrom left the box, Saku Koivu lunged to get the puck to his teammate.

Sundstrom went straight to the net and drew a delayed penalty on Carolina's Frantisek Kaberle before shooting. Higgins tried to stuff in the rebound, then chased down the puck after it scooted behind the net. He sent it toward the crease, where it bounced in off the back of goaltender Martin Gerber, for his first NHL career postseason goal.

"I was just following up and got a bit fortunate," said Higgins, who purposely banked in his goal.

That made it 4-1, and when Kovalev added another midway through the third period, the game essentially was over.

"It wasn't what we expected," Cullen said. "You have to give Montreal credit. They are a very good team. They're an explosive team. They made the most of just about every one of their opportunities."

Souray tacked on his with less than 2 minutes remaining.

"This game really showed that if we play a little tighter game, we're real smart on defence and dump the puck in when we get a chance, that makes a really big difference," Kovalev said. "But the first game doesn't mean anything."

The Hurricanes finished 0-for-5 on the power play and clearly missed Erik Cole and fellow left wing Ray Whitney, both of whom sat out with injuries. Cole missed the final 22 games with a fractured vertebra -- Carolina won only 10 of those -- and Whitney didn't dress for the final six with a lower-body ailment.

The Canadiens will look to go ahead 2-0 in the series when the two clubs face off again Monday night at RBC Center.

NOTES: Steve Begin, travelled with the team to Raleigh, remained sidelined by a knee injury suffered back on Apr. 8...Mark Streit, Todd Simpson and Aaron Downey were healthy scratches...Along with Huet and Higgins, Tomas Plekanec, Garth Murray and Alexander Perezhogin were also making their NHL playoffs debuts...Souray and Bouillon's goals were the first ever playoff goals for both blueliners...Plekanec picked up two assists...The last time the Canadiens scored six goals in a playoff game was back on April 28, 1993 in Game 6 against the Nordiques.  Jacques Demers' squad, en route to a Stanley Cup championship, eliminated Quebec 6-2.  Since then, the Canadiens hadn't scored more than five goals in a postseason game in their last 13 playoff series, a span of 65 games...

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