For the first time in five games, the Carolina Hurricane had the chance to play with a lead and with that opportunity like that they proved hard to beat in front of a boisterous crowd at the RBC Centre.
Carolina took advantage of two power play opportunities as Eric Staal and Matt Cullen paced them to the lead and Cam Ward once again held the fort in the defensive end, spurring the Canes on to a 2-1 victory and 3 games to 2 lead in the best of seven series.
Once again it was the outstanding goaltending of Ward that helped ice the Montreal attack, the back up goaltender who took over in the first period of the second game and hasn’t looked back since. Sunday he faced 31 shots, stopping all but one of them and even on that one goal he was oh so close to denying the Habs a goal.
Montreal seemed to have troubles getting untracked in the first thirty minutes of the game; it wasn’t until mid way through the second period that Montreal finally began to play with consistency in the Carolina end of the ice.
Montreal’s Cristobal Huet also had another strong night in the nets for the Candiens, he was under constant attack from the opening face off and that condition continued for most of the game, Huet held his ice and stopped 26 of the 28 shots directed his way.
Montreal now has to regroup and play with more immediacy on Tuesday night; the advantage goes towards Carolina now with the chance to put Montreal away in six games at the Bell Centre. Montreal somehow needs to find the energy they had in games one and two, where they surprised the Hurricanes with their drive and pace. Since then, Carolina has been able to counter those traits and wait out the Habs for the scoring opportunities.
The key to success now for Montreal is getting into the comfort zone that Ward seems to be playing within at the moment, his confidence in the nets has rubbed off on his team mates who play with a bit less tension realizing that a mistake or give away won’t necessarily translate into a goal.
To counter that confidence, Montreal needs to play more in the Carolina end of the rink and direct shot after shot in Wards direction. Montreal fans were quite happy to have made the playoffs during that wild couple of weeks down the stretch, now it’s up to the players to make sure that the ride continues beyond round number one!