MONTREAL — The Hurricanes' 4-3 loss to the Canadiens on Satursday offered a classic example of how quickly things can change in a game.
With 6:25 left in regulation, the Canes were in a 3-3 game and seemingly had momentum. Jeff Skinner, having taken a pass from Erik Cole, was crossing the Habs blue line with the puck and carrying it down the left wing.
A lot of good things have happened this season when Skinner has the puck. But in a span of five seconds, Skinner first faked a shot, had one blocked by Hal Gill, then became tangled up with P.K. Subban near the corner. Just like that, Skinner was called for holding and the Habs on a power play.
Skinner's penalty was the Canes' only infraction in the game. It also was costly. With just seconds left in the power play, and 3:53 left in regulation, Andrei Kostitsyn redirected a Roman Hamrlik shot past Cam Ward.
The Canes were playing without captain Eric Staal, who was injured Friday against Pittsburgh and did not make the trip. The Habs had Alex Auld in goal after Carey Price was ill at Saturday's morning skate.
The teams were tied 3-3 after a fast-paced second period. Canes coach Paul Maurice switched up the lines after the first — with immediate results.
Skinner took over as the top-line center, and it was his pass that set up Cory Stillman for the tying goal midway through the period. Stillman, a crafty veteran traded Thursday to the Canes from the Florida Panthers, played well in the 4-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday but did not have a point.
Maurice took Tuomo Ruutu off the top line and had him centering Chad LaRose and Jerome Samson in the second. That line struck early in the period for a goal as a LaRose shot caromed off a Montreal player and Ruutu was credited with the goal.
Tomas Plekanec, unchecked on a rush into the Carolina zone, gave the Habs a 3-2 lead with a bullet of a shot from the right circle. But Stillman unleashed a quick wrister for his eighth goal of the season.
The Canes used some hustle from Jiri Tlusty to score the game's first goal. Habs goalie Alex Auld, who started for an ill Carey Price, went behind his net to play the puck but Tlusty jumped in to pick off his pass.
Auld recovered to stop a Brandon Sutter shot, but Jussi Jokinen banged in the rebound — Jokinen's fourth goal in the past three games.
The Habs had to kill off a four-minute high-sticking penalty early in the game after Scott Gomez nicked Skinner on the chin. But goals by Mike Cammalleri and Lars Eller gave Montreal a 2-1 lead after the first, the scores coming after the Habs outfought the Canes for the puck along the boards.
Staal suffered an upper-body injury Friday after a collision with Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen, lying face-first on the ice for a few moments.
Maurice's said his first reaction to seeing Staal go down probably the same as most people in the RBC Center, "Get up! Get up!"
Maurice said Staal may skate on his own today — the Canes have an off day — and that he was hopeful Staal would be ready for Tuesday's game against the Florida Panthers.
"We'll see how it plays out but I'm not overly concerned by it," Maurice said Saturday. "He's such a strong man, such a powerful man, and I've seen him play through torn muscles and things like that. So we expect him back."
Niskanen, who was not penalized for the hit, was not fined or suspended by the league on Saturday.
While Staal was missing, the Canes also had to make another late change. Defenseman Jay Harrison was ill when he reached the Bell Centre and was replaced in the lineup by Brett Carson.
The Habs had to make a late change Saturday. Price was ill at Saturday's morning skate, and Auld was the starter after allowing three goals on nine shots Thursday in a 5-4 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Stillman was playing his second game for the Canes while defenseman Brent Sopel was playing his first for Montreal after being acquired Thursday from the Atlanta Thrashers.