MONTREAL (AP) - Justin Williams and the Carolina Hurricanes got their game back on track after their coach gave them a timely breather.
Justin Williams and Ray Whitney each scored twice and Eric Staal got his 40th goal as Carolina moved atop the NHL's overall standings Thursday night with a 5-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens.
Martin Gerber, making his sixth straight start, stopped 28 shots as the Hurricanes moved ahead of Detroit for the overall league lead with 96 points.
"I think it's one of the fastest-paced games that we've played this year," Williams said. "The teams battled hard for position out there but we were able to close the game out and save our best for the third period."
Canadiens defenseman Mathieu Dandenault scored his second of the season at 4:17 of the third to ruin Gerber's shutout bid and draw Montreal to within 2-1.
Right after the goal, Hurricanes coach Peter Laviolette called a timeout.
"It was real positive and the guys responded really well," he said. "They went right out and down in their end and gained scoring chances. I just wanted to remind them of what makes them successful."
Williams, who also had two assists, scored his 23rd goal late in the second and restored Carolina's two-goal lead when he scored his 24th - his second of the game - at 9:47 of the third.
"The crowd came into it a little bit more when they scored the goal to make it 2-1, and our coach called a great timeout, told us to settle down, calm things down and really not play the scoreboard," Williams said. "We came out, got a two-goal cushion again and took the game over from there."
Whitney opened the scoring early in the second on a shot that went in the goal just before the net was dislodged. He added a power-play goal in the third to make it 4-1 before Staal scored on a 5-on-3.
"It doesn't come by yourself, it comes with other guys that you play with and teammates," Staal said of reaching the 40-goal plateau. "It's been a good year so far and obviously we need to finish strong, and I would like to finish strong and be ready for the playoffs."
David Aebischer, Gerber's teammate with Switzerland's Olympic team, made 36 saves as he lost his Montreal debut. Acquired from Colorado in the March 8 trade that sent Jose Theodore to the Avalanche, Aebischer backed up Cristobal Huet - who ended a streak of 14 straight starts Thursday - for his first two games with the Canadiens.
"It doesn't really matter who you're facing," Aebischer said. "It's great to have an opportunity to play against a team like that and unfortunately we came up short tonight but that's one game. We have to put it behind us and look forward because there are a lot of tough games coming up."
Montreal's grip on the eighth place in the Eastern Conference was cut to one point by ninth-place Atlanta, which won 4-2 over the New York Islanders.
The Hurricanes improved to 6-1-2 since the Olympic break.
After a scoreless first, Whitney opened the scoring 5:24 into the second when he put Williams' rebound past Aebischer just as the Canadiens' goalie knocked the net out of place. Referee Mike Hasenfratz immediately signaled a goal, which was backed up by a video review.
Williams scored at 16:02 to make it 2-0.
Notes: Gerber made a season-high 10 starts in a row from Dec. 6-28. ... Huet was 8-3-3 over the course of his streak, registering points in 11 of 12 games (8-1-3) at one point. ... Canadiens D Andrei Markov missed his second straight game because of back spasms. ... A third member of Switzerland's Olympic team took part in the game. Montreal D Mark Streit, the Swiss team's captain, replaced Markov in the lineup for the second game in a row.