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Canadiens 6, Hurricanes 1 @NHLdotcom

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Cristobal Huet's first NHL playoff start in net didn't begin so well. Less than a minute in, he and the Montreal Canadiens already trailed.

"I just tried to focus on my game," he said. "There was a long way to go."

Considering how far he already had come, staying patient wasn't a problem.

Huet made 43 saves, 12 players recorded points and the Canadiens made up for four lopsided losses to the Carolina Hurricanes during the regular season with a 6-1 victory Saturday night in the opener of the 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 last 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."

Game 2 is Monday night.

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 is the latest in a long line of French-speaking goaltenders for one of the NHL's marquee teams, yet he's from France, not the province of Quebec. He surprisingly got the nod over David Aebischer for the start in Game 1, even though he had lost his final two starts of the season.

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 3 1/2 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 telltale 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.

"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 defense 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.

Each are valuable on the man-advantage, and their absence was glaring for this one.

"It was a frustrating night," Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette said. "I guess the only positive you can take is you have to win four games, not just one. We get to come back and play again in a couple of nights right here in our own building."

Notes: Whitney is day to day. ... Canadiens C Steve Begin was out with a knee injury.

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