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GAME: Carolina Hurricanes at Montreal Canadiens.

PLAYOFF SERIES: Eastern Conference quarterfinals; Canadiens lead 2-1.

TIME: Friday, 7 p.m. EDT.

Eric Staal breathed life into the Carolina Hurricanes.

Now they have a chance to even their Eastern Conference first-round series against the Montreal Canadiens, who will be without their captain for at least Game 4 and possibly longer.

Canadiens center Saku Koivu, the team's captain since 1999 and its second-leading scorer during the regular season, is out indefinitely after being hit with a stick near his left eye during the second period of Montreal's 2-1 overtime loss Wednesday in Game 3.

Koivu was clipped by the stick of Justin Williams near Carolina's net and taken off the ice as blood dripped down the left side of his face. No penalty was called on the play, which was not a deliberate high stick.

"I tried to cover Saku in front of the net, he came to the net and I obviously missed his stick and clipped him under the eye," said Williams, who said after Thursday's practice that he had left phone messages for Koivu but had not yet spoken to him. "There was no penalty on the play but I kept looking for him at the start of each period to see if he was back on the bench, but that wasn't so."

Koivu, who also overcame a battle with cancer four years ago, had 17 goals and 45 assists in his 10th season with Montreal and a pair of assists so far in the playoffs.

"He was in good spirits when I spoke to him this morning," said Canadiens defenseman Craig Rivet on Thursday. "You could see that there was a little bit of panic when he was coming off the ice. He knew that it was a serious injury and hopefully things will work out."

The injury comes at a bad time for Montreal, which opened the postseason in stunning fashion by winning both games at Carolina to take a 2-0 lead after losing all four regular-season games to the Hurricanes and getting outscored 25-9.

Needing a boost in Game 3, Staal provided it for the Hurricanes when he scored a power-play goal 3:38 into overtime, firing a slap shot through a screen that eluded Montreal goaltender Cristobal Huet.

Staal, a 100-point scorer in his second NHL season, picked an opportune time for his first-ever playoff goal.

"We needed the win," said Staal, who had four assists in the Game 2 loss. "I didn't get as much wood on it as I would have liked, but I found the back of the net with a good screen in front."

Richard Zednik gave the Canadiens a 1-0 lead on a second-period power-play goal before Carolina's Rod Brind'Amour tied the game at 11:27 of the third.

"At least it got us in the game and gave us a chance to win it," said Brind'Amour, who had four goals and eight assists for the Hurricanes in their run to the 2002 Stanley Cup Finals. "We didn't play great, our power play wasn't too good but we were fortunate enough to get another one in overtime and make that one work."

Coach Peter Laviolette likely will stick with goaltender Cam Ward, who made 27 saves in his first playoff start. Ward replaced starter Martin Gerber - who allowed nine goals in 34 shots - midway through Game 2.

"I was thinking before the game how exciting it was to have my first playoff start in Montreal and what the atmosphere was going to be like," Ward said. "It only would have been fitting if we won and fortunately we were able to rally in the end."

The series returns to Raleigh, N.C., for Game 5 on Sunday.

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Hurricanes - 112 points; 2nd seed. Canadiens - 93 points; 7th seed.

PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Hurricanes - Brind'Amour, 3 goals; Staal, 4 assists and 5 points; Doug Weight, 8 PIM. Canadiens - Alex Kovalev, 3 goals and 5 points; Mathieu Dandenault, Tomas Plekanec and Niklas Sundstrom, 3 assists; Francis Bouillon and Mike Komisarek, 8 PIM.

PLAYOFF SPECIAL TEAMS: Hurricanes - Power play: 20.0 percent (4 for 20). Penalty killing: 71.4 percent (10 for 14). Canadiens - Power play: 28.6 percent (4 for 14). Penalty killing: 80.0 percent (16 for 20).

GOALTENDERS: Hurricanes - Gerber (0-1, 0 SO, 7.20 GAA); Ward (1-1, 0, 1.83). Canadiens - Huet (2-1, 0, 2.33); David Aebischer (no appearances).

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