RALEIGH, N.C. -- There was a time in the second half of the season that the Carolina Hurricanes couldn't buy a win at home. Now, they've got four straight -- in the playoffs.
Ron Francis and Erik Cole scored third-period goals and Kevin Weekes stopped 25 shots for his second straight shutout as the Hurricanes beat the Montreal Canadiens 2-0 Friday night in the opening game of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Carolina was 3-0 against New Jersey at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in the first round, winning all three against the two-time defending East champions by one goal. This was another close one in front of a record-crowd of 18,809, but the Hurricanes outshot the Canadiens 30-16 over the final two periods to take command.
Francis scored his 42nd career postseason goal 3:49 into the final period on a deflection to break the scoreless tie. Cole sealed it with 2:18 left on a stellar individual play.
The other three semifinals resume on Saturday. St. Louis is at Detroit for Game 2 of that Western Conference series, led by Detroit. Also in the West, Colorado plays host to San Jose, which leads the series, 1-0.
In Eastern Conference play, Ottawa is at Toronto for Game 2. The Senators won Game 1.
Before the four key postseason wins, Carolina had just four wins at home since Jan. 2. Included in that three-month span was an NHL-record seven straight ties.
''There is a different kind of pressure in the regular season when the question in January, February and March is: 'Is this team going to win its division and make the playoffs?''' Carolina coach Paul Maurice said. ''It's a different mindset now. You don't feel any of that at home.''
After upsetting top-seeded Boston in the opening round, Montreal played like the No. 8 seed for most of the night. The Canadiens got outshot 38-25, outhit 33-20 and were 0-for-4 on the power play, including a five-minute advantage five minutes in that produced just two shots against Weekes.
''We didn't move our legs,'' Andreas Dackell said. ''I don't know why, but we didn't seem to have any jump in our legs. That hurt us the whole game.
''We've got to regroup and get going Sunday,'' Dackell said of Game 2. ''I don't think we're too worried. We know we have some great goal-scorers. I don't think we're going to worry about this. It's just one game in a long series.''
At least Montreal hopes so. The Hurricanes have set an early tone of solid forechecking and physical play, just like they did against the Devils.
''There's no secret to what we've got to do,'' Montreal enforcer Gino Odjick said. ''We've got to be better on special teams and we've got to win the 1-on-1 battles.''
The Canadiens also must try to beat Weekes, who has gone 136 minutes without allowing a playoff goal.
''Our defensemen are clearing guys out in front of the net, battling in behind the net for the puck, battling in the corners, those are tough areas to play in,'' Weekes said. ''Those areas are where the most pain is inflicted on your body. I am very appreciative to the guys for battling that way. That's why this is a very good team.''
Jose Theodore had just made a spectacular diving stick save on rookie Jaroslav Svoboda five seconds before Niclas Wallin left his shot fly from 10 feet inside the blue line and Francis deflected it between the legs of the Montreal goalie for the game-winner.
It didn't take long for the series to heat up between former division rivals.
Less than five minutes in, Carolina's Jeff O'Neill took a five-minute checking-from-behind penalty and a game misconduct when he rammed Montreal defenseman Sheldon Souray from behind along the side boards. Souray fell to the ice in pain and was helped off the ice as Carolina's leading goal scorer during the regular season was done for the night.
Souray returned for just one more shift and his shoulder injury will be re-evaluated today.
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