Cam Ward kept Carolina's faint playoff hopes from vanishing entirely.
Ward made 11 of his 34 saves in the first period, keeping the Hurricanes in the game, before goals by Brandon Sutter and Eric Staal lifted the 'Canes to a 2-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on Wednesday night.
Ward stopped 11 shots in the first, 13 in the second, and 10 in the third to win his second straight start after missing 17 games because of a back injury. His performance in the opening period helped Carolina survive a dreadful start in which the Hurricanes were outshot 12-2 in the opening period.
"We were trying a whole new thing, to see if we could win a game without actually taking a stride in the first," Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said. "It was a short experiment -- it wasn't going particularly well. We tried first gear in the second period, but all joking aside, we were pretty good in the third."
Carolina, which has won three of four, is 11th in the Eastern Conference with 75 points, seven behind eighth-place Montreal. The Canes improved to 11-0-2 in their last 13 visits to the Bell Centre since 2005.
The Hurricanes, one of the NHL's hottest teams over the last two months, aren't conceding anything until they're officially eliminated from the race.
"You never can say never and obviously the standings don't look like they're in our favor but mathematically we're not out of it and you've got to come to the rink and compete," Ward said. "At the end of the day this is what we get paid to do and you've got to wear that jersey with some pride and compete."
Sutter drew the Hurricanes even at 1-1 when he got credit for his 20th goal early in the second.period. Staal broke the tie 2:55 into the third period with his 24th goal, beating Carey Price from the right edge of the crease.
That came after the Canadiens completely dominated the opening period -- but managed only a single goal. Marc-Andre Bergeron beat Ward with a point shot at 8:04 for his first goal since Dec. 31.
"We had so many scoring chances but we didn't score," center Tomas Plekanec said. "It should have been 2-0 or 3-0, and the game would have been completely different. After that we started pushing it, and it doesn't happen when you're pushing and pressing things.
Price stopped 25 shots for Montreal, 1-3-2 in its last six games after its season-high six-game winning streak. Philadelphia, Boston and the Canadiens all have 82 points, just two points ahead of ninth-place Atlanta.
"We were ready to play, we all knew the importance of this game going into it," Price said. "For the majority of the game we played really well. We carried the game, we just didn't get rewarded for it."
Referee Dean Morton waved off an apparent goal by Carolina's Sergei Samsonov 5:58 in after former Canadien Tom Kostopoulos bowled over Price. Kostopoulos was sent off for goalie interference on the play, and Montreal found itself with a 5-on-3 advantage for 40 seconds when Hurricanes defenseman Jay Harrison was called for hooking Brian Gionta on a partial breakaway that Ward thwarted with a sprawling stop.
Carolina killed off the rest of Kostopoulos' penalty, but Bergeron drove a slap shot from the point past Ward for his 11th goal with Harrison still in the box.
Sutter got credit for his 20th of the season at 3:44 of the second period. Morton initially waved off the goal, but a video review overturned his ruling. Price stopped Sutter's initial shot -- Carolina's third of the game -- but Canadiens defenseman Roman Hamrlik slid into the rebound and pushed the puck across the goal line before the net was dislodged.
The Canadiens still control their own destiny and know that this is no time for panic.
"We were doing everything right and the results just weren't coming," defenseman Hal Gill said. "Sometimes when you're doing all the right things and it's not working out, you start doing the wrong things because what you're doing isn't getting it done. I think we were guilty of that tonight. We know what we need to do the rest of the way to get this done."
Material from team media and wire services was used in this report