Game 9: Plekanec leads Habs to 7-4 win over Canes

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Tomas Plekanec celebrates his first goal tonight. His two-goal, two-assist performance is the best of his NHL career.
Streeter Lecka, Getty Images

Updated at 10:33 p.m. ET with more photos

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Tomas Plekanec had a career-high two goals and two assists and the Canadiens scored five times on the power-play, four of the goals coming in a shocking five-goal, first-period outburst, to defeat the Carolina Hurricanes 7-4 in Raleigh, N.C.

It was the Canadiens’ third straight win, and this one came over a usually excellent Hurricanes squad, which came into the contest on the heels of a 6-2 win over Buffalo on Wednesday and with a 6-1-3 record this season, putting them atop the NHL’s Southeast Division. Carolina was unbeaten at home in regulation time (3-0-1) and with the pounding of the Sabres had earned at least a point in seven consecutive games.

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Canadiens’ Tom Kostopoulos celebrates the goal of linemate Kyle Chipchura in the first period.
Ellen Ozier, Reuters

But the Hurricanes were caught flat-skated by the Canadiens, now 5-2-2, who are guaranteed at least a season split with the Hurricanes, this the teams’ third of four meetings on the 2007-08 schedule. Montreal beat Carolina to spoil their home opener on Oct. 3, then lost to the ‘Canes in their own home opener on Oct. 13.

Tonight’s game was decided early, if the Hurricanes clawed back more than just a little, finally outshooting their visitors 36-30, and while this one sent the Canadiens away with two points, it was far from a perfect game for the winners.

Montreal’s power play roared to life in the first 20 minutes, which saw the Habs tie a team record with four man-advantage goals in a single period and take a 5-1 lead to the dressing room, nine players having figured in the scoring.

If rookie Kyle Chipchura wasn’t overwhelmed by the quality of his first goal in the NHL, scored last Saturday on a near-50-footer through a bit of maze against Buffalo, surely he’s happy with No. 2. The fourth-line centreman rifled a 20-foot wrist shot over Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward’s glove into the short side at 3:18, assisted by Andrei Markov and Tom Kostopoulos, to put the Canadiens on the scoreboard first.

It was the Habs’ second shot of the game and their only even-strength goal of the period.

Montreal went up 2-0 at 8:40 on the power play, the rebound of Mark Streit’s slap shot from the point bouncing off Ward’s pad to Plekanec, who made no mistake for his second goal of the season.

The Hurricanes got that back at 11:21 on a beautiful play by Eric Staal, passing virtually blind on a spinaround to Jeff Hamilton, who’d gotten behind Canadiens defenceman Roman Hamrlik. Both the puck and Hamilton, belted down too late by Hamrlik, wound up in Cristobal Huet’s net.

Then Alex Kovalev made a little personal history 59 seconds later, one-timing home a tape-to-tape, cross-ice pass from Markov on the power play. The goal, in Kovalev’s 1,000th NHL game, gave him 800 career points, and Guillaume Latendresse was quick to scoop up the puck which the Canadiens will put on a plaque for their prolific Russian winger.

Saku Koivu, sort of, put the Canadiens up 4-1 at 18:06, this time with the Canadiens enjoying a 5-on-3 advantage. The Habs captain was credited with the goal, unassisted, but give it to Carolina defenceman Mike Commodore, who deflected the cross-crease pass of Koivu past the beleaguered Ward.

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Carolina’s Eric Staal crashes into Canadiens goalie Cristobal Huet, having been tripped on a rush. Staal scored on the ensuing penalty shot.
Ellen Ozier, Reuters

With the advantage down to one man, the Canadiens made it 5-1 30 seconds later when Streit blasted a shot from the blue line through Ward’s pads. Hamrlik and Plekanec earned assists, giving the latter a goal and two assists in the first 20 minutes.

The Hurricanes appeared to have their second of the night at 13:55 of the second period, but coincidental roughing penalties to Habs’ Francis Bouillon and Carolina’s Ryan Bayda before the puck was swatted past Huet nullified it, to the significant outrage of the home team.

But they did get it after all on a penalty shot awarded to Staal, who had been hauled down on a break. Staal buried a wrist shot past Huet’s stick side at 14:46. With shootouts in the NHL today, a penalty shot seems to have lost some of its lustre.

Carolina’s Justin Williams tried to stir more life into his team by pouncing on Streit shortly afterward and trying to pick a fight, but he didn’t find a willing partner. Penalized alone, Williams watched Plekanec score his second of the night at 16:20, converting a Patrice Brisebois rebound off the boards behind John Grahame, who had replaced Ward at the start of the second period.

Ray Whitney brought the Hurricanes to within three 4:18 into the third, left alone in front of Huet to backhand home a pass out from teammate Keith Aucoin, who had wheeled behind the net from the wing. Then future Hall of Famer Rod Brind’Amour capped off some dominant Carolina puck control, beating Huet from in close at 18:21, tightening the Canadiens collar a little more.

Montreal’s Bryan Smoliski picked up an upsportsmanlike penalty on the Brind’Amour goal, leading the Canes to pull Grahame to give them a 6-on-4 situation. But Habs’ Mathieu Dandenault iced the game with his second of the year, this one into an empty net with Montreal shorthanded, on a pass from Koivu.

The Canadiens left Raleigh immediately after the game and meet the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Saturday night before returning home to play host to the Atlanta Thrashers on Tuesday and the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday.

THREE STARS: 1. Plekanec 2. Streit 3. Kovalev

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Canadiens’ Mikhail Grabovski nearly falls out of his helmet along the boards.
Ellen Ozier, Reuters

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Guillaume Latendresse 9right) hands the goal puck to Alex Kovalev, who has just earned his 800th NHL point in his 1,000th game.
Streeter Lecka, Getty Images

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Canadiens captain Saku Koivu is belted to the ice by Carolina’s Eric Staal.
Streeter Lecka, Getty Images

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Mathieu Dandenault chases a loose puck against sliding Carolina player Dennis Seidenberg.
Streeter Lecka, Getty Images

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Montreal defenceman Mike Komisarek battles for the puck with Hurricanes’ Cory Stillman.
Streeter Lecka, Getty Images

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Someone stopped him: Carolina goalie John Grahame makes a save on Tomas Plekanec.
Ellen Ozier, Reuters


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