MONTREAL -- For two seasons, Canes forward Tom Kostopoulos was a part of the hockey experience that is playing for the Montreal Canadiens.
"It will be fun," he said of tonight's game with the Habs at the Bell Centre. "The atmosphere here with these fans, the fun feeling, makes it a great place to play."
Coming to North Carolina and the Hurricanes this season has been another type of experience. Southern living, Southern hospitality. There's also the matter of picking a local college team to root for — Kostopoulos says he's leaning toward N.C. State.
"The guys are already roping me in," he said with a smile. "The first thing when I got down there everyone said was, 'You've got to pick your college colors.' So, N.C. State Wolfpack for now."
In Montreal, it's all about Habs hockey and the Bell Centre a focal point for the city. Kostospoulos noted that about 20 of the Canes list the Bell Centre as their favorite place to play in their bios, and said there was one indelible moment for him in the arena.
"The atmosphere two years ago, Game 7 against Boston in the playoffs," he said. "The city was electric. I remember the game, I remember the feeling of winning, I remember the riot after the game.
"It was a lot of fun to be a part of. I really thought we had a chance to compete for the Cup and it's too bad we lost to (Philadelphia) the next round. But it was pretty cool to be a part of."
Kostopoulos signed with the Hurricanes hoping to be a part of another Cup contender. The last thing he expected was to be back in the Bell Centre in November answering questions about the relief of ending a 14-game winless streak.
"It seems like we would play good for 45 minutes of a game and there were 15 minutes where we got rolled over by the other team," he said of the streak. "We couldn't keep our feet on the ground.
"We realize we're a team that has to play 60 minutes. We have to play a complete game to win. Wins are so hard to come by in this league that we have to do it every night. It was a tough stretch but hopefully it's done with."
The Canes hope to have injured center Eric Staal back next week, and soon have goaltender Cam Ward rejoin the team when his leg laceration fully heals.
"I don't know if there's a better goalie than Cam Ward in the league, and Eric Staal is one of the best forwards," Kostopoulos said. "So losing both those two guys is real tough on a team.
"But I think one of our strengths is our depth. Everyone has been working hard and hopefully we can get going here."
Kostopoulos played for the Pittsburgh Penguins and LA Kings before coming to Montreal as a free agent in 2007 and becoming one of the team's most popular players. This season, he has been used on the fourth line and as a penalty killer for the Canes -- his only goal was shorthanded -- and has averaged 9:21 in ice time.
"His minutes aren't where they will be," Canes coach Paul Maurice said today. "But the fact of the matter is when you're chasing from behind on most nights, in the third period his ice time has been down.
"We have players who have scored somewhere between 20 and 30 (goals a season) that you just keep putting out on the ice. But he has been very, very consistent. ... I've never cut him back because of his own personal performance. If his minutes fell off, it was because we're down one or down two."