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Canadiens look for answers after blowing lead for fourth loss in five games

NHL.com @NHL

MONTREAL - The Ottawa Senators can take heart - they aren't the only Northeast Division club that is starting to fall apart.

While the Senators agonize over six straight losses, their closest pursuers for first place in the division, the Montreal Canadiens, have lost four of their last five games.

And it won't get easier with the first-place overall Detroit Red Wings next up at the Bell Centre on Tuesday night.

The latest setback was a 5-4 shootout defeat in which the Canadiens blew third-period leads of 3-0 and 4-1 to the Nashville Predators on Saturday night.

"You can't lose leads like that," a seething coach Guy Carbonneau said. "It happens once in a while, but it can't keep happening."

But it has, including one against Ottawa last month when the Senators scored three third-period goals to overcome a 1-0 Montreal lead.

Cristobal Huet was in goal for both of those games.

The French goaltender ended up as the goat against Nashville, misplaying a Dan Hamhuis shoot-in that allowed the Predators' Jed Ortmeyer to score his team's first goal short-handed at 8:40 of the third period.

The Canadiens got that one back when Guillaume Latendresse scored his second of the game at 10:41 for a 4-1 lead.

But after David Legwand made it 4-2, Greg De Vries floated a shot from the blue-line that went straight past Huet into the net. Radek Bonk tied it with 47 seconds to go with Nashville playing with six attackers on a power play.

It was a lost opportunity for Montreal, which took a 2-0 lead in the first period thanks mainly to a bad outing for Nashville's starting goalie Chris Mason, who was replaced by backup Dan Ellis 13:39 into the game.

The Predators outplayed Montreal for most of the game, but Huet held them off with a succession of fine saves in the first two periods and with the help of two hit goalposts.

"This was a perfect chance to get a win despite the team having a bad game," said Huet. "It is disgraceful to blow a lead like that, especially at home.

"I can't explain it."

Except that he did later, saying: "We're a fragile team. We're a little weak between the ears."

His teammates jumped to Huet's defence, saying the game could have been out of reach early if he hadn't shut the door in the first two periods.

Carbonneau was already in a foul mood from his team being shut out in two of its previous three games.

Looking to stir up his club and find a way to get even-strength goals, he sat out veteran checkers Steve Begin and Tom Kostopoulos and dressed youngster Mikhail Grabovski and spare defenceman Josh Gorges, while moving blue-liner Mark Streit up to the wing.

He also shuffled all four lines, putting captain Saku Koivu with Streit and Bryan Smolinski, Alex Kovalev with Tomas Plekanec and Chris Higgins, Grabovski with Michael Ryder and Andrei Kostitsyn and Kyle Chipchura with Latendresse and Mathieu Dandenault.

The result was four even-strength goals, but a woeful defensive effort.

Carbonneau pointed the finger at his veterans after the game.

He didn't name names, but said the Ortmeyer goal (on Huet's mistake) "shouldn't have happened."

Smolinski's tripping penalty that put Nashville on the power play for the final minute didn't help. And some defencemen, notably Patrice Brisebois, made repeated turnovers.

Confidence looks to be lacking, as second-year winger Latendresse said.

"Once the Predators got their second goal, Legwand's goal, right away you could see the drop in confidence," he said. "We stopped putting pressure on their defence. We stopped attacking and Predators took advantage of that.

"We knew they were a team that wasn't going to give up."

Only two nights earlier, the Predators got a goal with 22 seconds left to play to beat Ottawa 6-5.

Now Nashville heads for Toronto on Tuesday night riding a 9-2-2 record since Nov. 1 and looking to make it a sweep through Eastern Canada.

The Canadiens spent Sunday at a promotional event and are back on the ice for practice on Monday morning to see what new changes Carbonneau has in store.

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