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GAME: Carolina Hurricanes at Montreal Canadiens.

PLAYOFF SERIES: Eastern Conference quarterfinals; Hurricanes lead 3-2.

TIME: Tuesday, 7 p.m. EDT.

The Carolina Hurricanes didn't see losing the first two games of their playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens as the best road to advancing. Goaltender Cam Ward, though, has the Hurricanes one step from traveling that path into the second round.

Having led the second-seeded Hurricanes to three consecutive one-goal victories since they dropped Games 1 and 2 on home ice, Ward and Carolina look to eliminate Montreal when the teams meet at the Bell Centre.

Carolina's backup goalie has stepped up in place of Martin Gerber, who was pulled in the first period of Game 2 after allowing nine goals on 34 shots in the first two contests.

Ward took over and has given up four goals in the three consecutive victories, stopping 80 of 84 shots faced.

The Hurricanes were outshot 31-28 on Sunday, but Ward made 30 saves in a 2-1 win at the RBC Center that gave Carolina the series lead.

"I feel really comfortable," the 22-year-old rookie said. "I'm just enjoying the moment and having a blast doing it. It's only fitting when you're winning, because winning's always fun."

The Hurricanes were 31-8-2 on home ice this season, giving them an Eastern Conference-best 64 points at home, but the road team claimed each of the first four games of this series before Carolina reasserted its winning ways in Raleigh, N.C. on Sunday.

"We're not there yet," Carolina coach Peter Laviolette said. "There's still a lot of work, and this is not going to be an easy task going up to Montreal. To be honest, we're going to have to play better than we did tonight."

In only one playoff season in franchise history has Carolina been up in a series going into Game 6. That was the case in each of the first three rounds in 2002, and the Hurricanes won the sixth game each time to eliminate New Jersey, Montreal and Toronto en route to the Stanley Cup finals.

Carolina was in control much of the night Sunday, but Alex Kovalev cut a 2-0 deficit in half with his fourth goal of the series in the final minute of the second period.

While the goal seemed to lift the energy level of the Canadiens, they couldn't beat Ward again to force overtime.

"I know the second half of the game, we started to make head roads and we spent time in the offensive zone," Montreal coach Bob Gainey said. "We were able to win pucks and control the play, and control the puck in the offensive zone."

Among Montreal's top seven goal scorers during the regular season, only Kovalev and Richard Zednik have goals in the three losses. Those seven players have just three assists in those games.

The Canadiens have played the last two games without Saku Koivu, their regular-season assists leader who was hospitalized briefly with an eye injury suffered in Game 3. The Habs captain is out for an undetermined period and unlikely to be available Tuesday.

Montreal last trailed 3-2 in a series in 2002, when it lost in six games to Carolina in the conference semifinals, but won the last three games to defeat Boston in a first-round matchup in 2004.

Game 7, if necessary, will Thursday night at the SBC Center.

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

PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Hurricanes - Rod Brind'Amour, 4 goals; Eric Staal, 5 assists and 7 points; Doug Weight, 10 PIM. Canadiens - Kovalev, 4 goals and 7 points; Tomas Plekanec, 4 assists; Francis Bouillon, 10 PIM.

PLAYOFF SPECIAL TEAMS: Hurricanes - Power play: 22.2 percent (6 for 27). Penalty killing: 78.3 percent (18 for 23). Canadiens - Power play: 21.7 percent (5 for 23). Penalty killing: 77.8 percent (21 for 27).

GOALTENDERS: Hurricanes - Ward (3-1, 1.67 GAA); Gerber (0-1, 7.20). Canadiens - Cristobal Huet (2-3, 2.41); David Aebischer (no appearances).

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