RALEIGH, N.C. -- Maybe Paul Maurice really does have two No. 1 goaltenders.
Martin Gelinas, Rod Brind'Amour and Ron Francis scored early in each period for Carolina, and Arturs Irbe returned to play brilliantly in net as the Hurricanes beat the Montreal Canadiens 5-1 Sunday to take a 3-2 lead in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Irbe, starting for the first time in five games after being benched by Maurice in the New Jersey series in favor of Kevin Weekes, was nearly flawless, stopping 30 shots. With 12 minutes left and the home team up by three, the record crowd of 18,853 was once again chanting his name.
''We've got something special going on here, and because of that, you want to be on the ice,'' said Irbe, who stopped 17 shots in the second period with Carolina holding a two-goal lead. ''Everybody dreams of being that guy who makes the difference and makes the winning happen.
''Bench-warming is not the most fun thing, but you know you can be called upon at any time and you've got to keep positive. It's not an easy job, but that's why I've survived several different coaches.''
Irbe lost what would have been his first career postseason shutout with 5:28 left when Karl Dykhuis scored.
''I don't know if you have that anywhere, where two guys support the team,'' Brind'Amour said of the two goalies. ''They can't be happy with getting yanked in and out, but we've got to go with who is hot. It's the playoffs and that's what it's all about.
''Archie has been professional about it and Weeksie has been great. He's the biggest cheerleader out there. That says a lot about the individuals.''
Carolina had won just one playoff series in its history prior to this season, but can close out Montreal with a win Monday night at the Molson Centre, where the Hurricanes rallied from a three-goal deficit to win Game 4.
''Their backs are against the wall and they're going to come out like a caged animal -- I'm sure of it,'' Bates Battaglia said of the Canadiens. ''They're going to be flying and we have to be ready.''
If necessary, Game 7 would return to the Entertainment and Sports Arena.
Gelinas and Brind'Amour scored early in the first and second periods to put the Canadiens on their heels, then Irbe and the stellar Carolina defense spent the rest of the time frustrating a slumping Montreal offense.
At one point late in the second period, Doug Gilmour slammed his stick into the back of the net in anger after failing to break free from a Glen Wesley check.
''He was pretty hot,'' Montreal's Oleg Petrov said of Irbe. ''We have to create more traffic in front of him. He's a great goaltender when he sees the shots.''
Francis tied the franchise record for career playoff points (31) held by Kevin Dineen when he poked in his own rebound on the power play 3:40 into the third to help seal it.
Tommy Westlund, a fourth-line player, added his first playoff goal with 8:42 remaining and Battaglia also scored late. Battaglia, who also had an assist, now has a team-leading 10 points in the playoffs.
''When a goalie plays that well, it gives a team even more emotion, and then the crowd gets into it,'' Montreal captain Saku Koivu said. ''Everything went their way.''
The Canadiens were without center Yanic Perreault, the top faceoff man in the NHL during the regular season. He remained in Montreal with a stomach virus.
Montreal enforcer Gino Odjick and Jeff O'Neill had a pushing and shoving match in the pregame warmups, but no punches were thrown as emotions were high before this crucial game.
Yet the Canadiens still came out flat after blowing a three-goal, third-period lead in Game 4 Thursday night -- and made the first crucial mistake.
O'Neill, demoted to the third line, pinned Donald Audette along the side boards in Montreal territory with a check three minutes in. As Audette tried to clear the puck it came right to a wide open Gelinas, who beat Jose Theodore high on the short side for his 14th career playoff goal.
It was just the third first-period goal for Carolina in 11 postseason games, but it got the fired-up crowd more involved as Montreal, outshot 12-5 in the period, failed to generate much offense against Irbe.
''We had a pretty good first period, but we didn't score and I think that was the game,'' Montreal defenseman Patrice Briseois said. ''Sometimes you're working hard, but you can't find a way to score goals and you get (mad) and frustrated. That's what happened to us.''
Brind'Amour scored his 37th career playoff goal and gave Carolina its first two-goal lead since Game 1 of the series when he beat Theodore with a low shot from the slot 2:13 into the second.
Peninsula Clarion ©2014. All Rights Reserved.