HabsWorld.net -- 

Yes, the Montreal Canadiens have lost 2 straight games, and yes, they threw up a stinker on Friday night, but is the situation really as bad as it seems?  Nope, not for a second.  Honestly, if someone were to ask you if you wouldn’t mind having the series 2-2, wouldn’t you have said yes?  I know I would have.  But it’s not about me, it’s about the team, who is going to have a familiar face back in the lineup Sunday.

That’s right, Steve Begin will make a triumphant return to the lineup, and not a moment too soon, given the fact that the Habs showed little enthusiasm in a 3-2 loss Friday where the score highly favoured the home (and losing) squad.  It is expected that Mark Streit, who played all of 2 shifts the other night, will go back to the press box.

It is truly an oddity that the road team wins 4 straight games to start a series, in any professional sport.  Does this mean the Habs have an advantage heading into game 5?  Quite honestly, I don’t know, nor does anyone really.  The only thing for sure is that the Habs will feel somewhat comfortable in Raleigh, as will the Canes in Montreal. 

Unfortunately for the Canadiens, there will be one significant change from the first pair down south: This time, there will actually be a goalie tending the pipes.  One could very realistically argue that if Cam Ward started both games in Carolina, this series would be over.  Personally, I think that with the way Cristobal Huet played in game 1, the Habs were taking it, one way or the other, but, had Gerber not started game 2, I don’t see the game going to OT, it probably ends in regulation with a Canes victory.  But, what’s happened has happened, and a 3-game series remains.  If the Habs are to win another game, let alone a pair, the following will be key:

– Mike Ribeiro must step up, I lost count after he hit double-digit misses on scoring chances.  The intensity is there, but the production isn’t.  Game 5, without Koivu will be HUGE in determining his future with this organization.

– Energy, energy, energy.  The Habs should have plenty to burn after Friday’s contest, and if Begin’s close to 100%, this will improve greatly.

– Get the Canes on their heels early.  In game 4, the Canes took it to the Habs in the 1st, and had a 2-0 lead that could’ve been much larger quite easily.  It’s time for Montreal to return the favour.

– Although Cristobal Huet has played well, quite well actually, in this series, he needs to come up with another yeoman performance before all is said and done.  Right now, the Hurricanes feel they’ve solved Huet, and are full of confidence.  A few key saves could turn the tide both defensively and offensively for Montreal.

Like I said earlier, the majority of Hab fans would gladly have taken a 2-2 split at this point, given the way the regular season series went.  So, despite the recent struggles, there’s plenty to be excited about, especially with Saku Koivu, who could potentially return to the lineup as early as Thursday night (game 7 if necessary.)  Sunday night’s game is going to be critical, here’s hoping the Habs come out with their best effort of the series.