Unfortunately, the Hurricanes won't have any time to celebrate. They have to make a very quick trip through US customs and into Detroit tonight for a 5:00 game tomorrow. Tonight's game ended at about 9:40, putting just 19:20 between the end of this game and the start of the next.
Erik "Hab Killa" Cole got the scoring going pretty early. At 3:51, he wristed one in from the right circle. Ray Whitney forced Kyle Chipchura to commit a turnover at center ice, then made a nifty backhand pass to Matt Cullen at the blue line. He came down the left wing, with Cole on the right. Two defensemen were back, but the passes were perfect. Actually, the referee was somewhat of a moving pick, and Cole used that to his advantage. In fact, the referee also served as a screen, preventing Carey Price from getting a good look at the shot. It was just the fifth goal of the season for Cole, but it signaled the beginning of a great game for him.
At 8:58, the Canadiens had a goal by Mark Streit disallowed. A shot trickled over the goal line just off the right post. The on-ice call was goal, but upon review, it was determined that the puck was kicked in by Streit's left skate, and the score remained 1-0 Carolina.
Eric Staal made it 2-0 at 12:13 of the first. With Alexei Kovalev in the box for tripping, the Canes were able to move the puck around pretty well. Justin "Viva" Williams fired a shot from near the left point that was tipped by Staal at the inside hashmarks on the left circle. Scott Walker picked up the secondary assist.
The second period started with a bang. Scott Walker boarded Mike Komisarek into the end wall behind Cam Ward, which prompted Komisarek to instigate a fight. When the dust settled, Walker had two minutes for boarding and five for fighting for seven minutes total. Komisarek had two for instigating, five for fighting and a ten minute misconduct that comes with the instigator. Nobody served the time and there was no advantage. The "ten minute" misconduct doesn't actually carry ten minutes of penalty time; it serves the function of a yellow card in soccer. He can get no more of two of those in a season without being slapped with a match penalty (ejection).
The Habs got on the board at 9:26 of the second. Eric Staal was in the box, affording the home team a power play. From under the goal line to Cam Ward's left, Kovalev fired a shot in the general direction of the goal. There was a bevy of humanity out front, and the puck caromed in. Credit was given to Andrei Kastsitsyn for the tip-in, but it might have also gone in off Carolina defenseman Tim Gleason's stick. No matter what, the puck was legally across the line and it was 2-1. Kovalev and Tomas Plekanec had the helpers.
Rod Brind'Amour scored his 14th goal of the season at 11:46 of the second from the high slot. Chad "Sharpie" La Rose fed him from the left half-wall, and Price never even saw the shot. Viva got the secondary assist for his 20th helper of the season.
Ray Whitney made it 4-1 at 19:26 of the second. Saku Koivu had just been called for high-sticking. On the ensuing faceoff in the right circle, Matt Cullen won it cleanly back to Dennis Baron Von Seidenberg at the right point. He found Whitney in the high slot for the one-timer. The power play lasted only four seconds, and Koivu had not even begun to feel shame.
During the second intermission, Guy Carbonneau pulled Price. Jaroslav Halak, who was called up to back up Price while Cristobal Huet is hurt, made his NHL debut and finished the game between the pipes for the home team.
At 6:28 of the final stanza, Ray Whitney scored again to make it 5-1. He and Erik Cole were on a two-on-one break and the Wizard snapped it in from the left circle. Cole and Cullen got the assists.
Just moments later, LaRose appeared to give the Canes a 6-1 lead, but the goal was wiped off when the ruling was that Justin Williams interfered with Halak's ability to make a save. Goaltender interference is not a reviewable thing, but replays showed that it was Kovalev rather than Williams who bumped Halak. Regardless, Sharpie and the rest of the Canes could still smile about it.
There was no more scoring for the rest of the game, but Cam Ward made some sparkling saves as the final period wore on and the Habs crowd got more and more restless.
All season, the Hurricanes have struggled with focus, effort and drive. Tonight, just like Monday, they played well. Not just for a few shifts, or for a period. They played well for the entire game. There were only two power plays, and they converted both. They had to kill off a full two minutes of five-on three and two consecutive five-on-four situations in the third. Cam Ward was sharp. Very sharp. The one time he wasn't sharp, Baron Von Seidenberg came over and made a spectacular defensive play in net -- stopping a sure goal -- while Cam was out of position. Even in the late going, with the game in hand, Cam didn't mail it in. Some of his best saves came in the final minutes with a four goal lead.
Earlier today, I noted that five Hurricanes players had 27 or more points heading into the game. Four of them had big nights. Cullen had three assists to give him 30 (6/24) on the season. Whitney had two goals and an assist to give him 30 (14/16) points. Williams had two assists to give him 29 (9/20) points. Brind'Amour had a goal to give him 32 (14/18) points.
Erik Cole added a goal and an assist to give him 17 (5/12) points on the season. In 10 career regular season games at the Bell Center, he now has 14 (9/5) points.
Cam Ward also continued his mastery in that building. He stopped 35 of 36 shots en route to his seventh win with no losses in Montréal.
This series is over for the season. Carolina went 2-1-1, earning five points and the narrow series win.
The "official" three stars were Erik Cole (third), Matt Cullen (second) and Ray Whitney (first). When Buffalo manhandled the Canes last Saturday with a complete and well balanced game, I had a hard time picking my stars. They could have gone to any three players. It's pretty much the same tonight, except the shoe is on the other hand.
After some great deal of deliberation, the RBH three stars:
THIRD STAR Cam Ward, CAR --- 35 saves, win
SECOND STAR Matt Cullen, CAR --- 3 assists, 71% faceoff (10/14)
FIRST STAR Ray Whitney, CAR --- 2 goals, 1 assist, 9 SOG, 2 takeaways
Normally in a back-to-back situation, John Grahame would get the start on the back end. Especially with the abnormally short turn-around. However, Crackers has been lousy lately and Cam has been very good. Even if the horse is tired, there's no point in changing horses midstream when the #1 horse is head and shoulders above the other. I honestly wouldn't be surprised if Cam gets the nod again.
That said, Detroit is a very good team, and they're rested. They'll be looking to do what Buffalo did last Saturday: take advantage of the tired visitors.
Canes-Wings will not be on Fox Sports South due to the airing of "the 50 best damn poker hands" or "the 50 best damn Geico commercials" or some such nonsense. FSN-Detroit will be airing the game, then joining a college basketball game in progress.