Kovalev, Huet lead Habs to easy win over Canes

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- Cristobal Huet's first NHL playoff start in
net didn't begin so well. Less than a minute in, he and the
Montreal Canadiens already trailed.

"I just tried to focus on my game," he said. "There was a
long way to go."

Considering how far he already had come, staying patient wasn't
a problem.

Huet made 43 saves, 12 players recorded points and the Canadiens
made up for four lopsided losses to the Carolina Hurricanes during
the regular season with a 6-1 victory Saturday night in the opener
of the Eastern Conference series.

Alex Kovalev had two goals and Francis Bouillon, Radek Bonk,
Chris Higgins and Sheldon Souray each added one for Montreal, which
ended the regular season with four losses in its last six games.

"It's playoff hockey," Bouillon said. "We could've won 2-1,
or 3-2 in overtime. It just so happened it was 6-1. We just need to
forget about this win, and we need to come back and play our style
of game."

Game 2 is Monday night.

The Hurricanes earned the second seed in the conference with the
best year in franchise history, a run that included a 4-0 record
against Montreal. None were really close, with the combined margin
of the final three 20-6.

And when Matt Cullen scored only 50 seconds into the first
period, it appeared the domination might continue. But the
Canadiens soon began controlling the action and stymied Carolina's
high-powered offense for the rest of the game, with Huet having the
biggest role.

"For us, it seemed like the puck didn't want to bounce in,"
Cullen said. "You've got to give their goalie credit. He played

Huet is the latest in a long line of French-speaking goaltenders
for one of the NHL's marquee teams, yet he's from France, not the
province of Quebec. He surprisingly got the nod over David
Aebischer for the start in Game 1, even though he had lost his
final two starts of the season.

His performance made coach and general manager Bob Gainey look
like a genius -- and made Montreal the second No. 7 seed to take a
1-0 lead in the playoffs. Colorado won at second-seeded Dallas
earlier Saturday.

"It's good to get the win, first, and for me to have a good
game, it is nice," Huet said. "I try to do my best, and sometimes
it's not working, sometimes it works. You just forget if you get
scored on, and try to bounce back."

The Hurricanes took nine of the first 10 shots and held a 35-14
advantage following two periods. One stretch was particularly
frustrating, when they failed to score during three Montreal
penalties in a span of about 3 minutes.

That included 55 seconds of 5-on-3, but Huet stopped everything
with the help of his defense as the Canadiens finished with 22
blocked shots.

"That was a huge turning point," Carolina captain Rod
Brind'Amour said. "You've got to score on your 5-on-3s. That's
very, very important. We didn't do it. Generally when you don't
score on those, that's a telltale sign of what is going to

When the third penalty on Niklas Sundstrom ended, the
standing-room-only crowd at the RBC Center unleashed a chorus of
boos. They quickly turned to anguish when Montreal scored 10
seconds later. As Sundstrom left the box, Saku Koivu lunged to get
the puck to his teammate.

Sundstrom went straight to the net and drew a delayed penalty on
Carolina's Frantisek Kaberle before shooting. Higgins tried to
stuff in the rebound, then chased down the puck after it scooted
behind the net. He sent it toward the crease, where it bounced in
off the back of goaltender Martin Gerber.

"I was just following up and got a bit fortunate," said
Higgins, who purposely banked in his goal.

That made it 4-1, and when Kovalev added another midway through
the third period, the game essentially was over.

"It wasn't what we expected," Cullen said. "You have to give
Montreal credit. They are a very good team. They're an explosive
team. They made the most of just about every one of their

Souray tacked on his with less than two minutes remaining.

"This game really showed that if we play a little tighter game,
we're real smart on defense and dump the puck in when we get a
chance, that makes a really big difference," Kovalev said. "But
the first game doesn't mean anything."

The Hurricanes finished 0-for-5 on the power play and clearly
missed Erik Cole and fellow left wing Ray Whitney, both of whom sat
out with injuries. Cole missed the final 22 games with a fractured
vertebra -- Carolina won only 10 of those -- and Whitney didn't dress
for the final six with a lower-body ailment.

Each are valuable on the man-advantage, and their absence was
glaring for this one.

"It was a frustrating night," Hurricanes coach Peter
Laviolette said. "I guess the only positive you can take is you
have to win four games, not just one. We get to come back and play
again in a couple of nights right here in our own building."

Game notes
Whitney is day to day. ... Canadiens C Steve Begin was out
with a knee injury.