Gerber still confident despite Game 1 struggles

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Martin Gerber remains confident in his abilities, and the rest of the players in the Carolina Hurricanes' dressing room feel the same.

His coach? Well, Peter Laviolette certainly has faith in his goaltender, even though he stopped short of committing to start Gerber in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference series against Montreal.

"I haven't addressed it, and I won't," Laviolette said Sunday, a day after the Canadiens beat Gerber and the Hurricanes 6-1 in the opener.

The subterfuge is likely part of the gamesmanship that goes along with the NHL playoffs, but for the first time in a while, there might be reason to question Carolina's standing in net.

In his first full season as a starter, Gerber went 38-14-6 to set a franchise record for victories. He had several stellar outings along the way, recording three shutouts and 12 games of at least 35 saves.

Lately, however, he simply hasn't been sharp. The Swiss-born Gerber allowed at least three goals in his final seven games of the regular season as Carolina stumbled a bit down the stretch.

Then Montreal won going away Saturday night despite getting outshot 43-21.

"We've just got to move forward and make a fresh start," said Gerber, who was one of the last players off the ice as usual following practice Sunday. "It's tough, when you're open like that, it's nothing you're really looking for. But it happens -- there's only so much you can do about it."

When asked if he deserved to keep his spot, Gerber flashed a bit of competitiveness his teammates have grown to appreciate.

"I want to be the guy, for sure," he said. "That's not my decision, though."

The man who makes the call, Laviolette, wasn't giving any indication which way he might go. Backup Cam Ward, a 22-year-old rookie, went 14-8 this season and stopped 39 shots in a victory over Washington in his final start.

But that was more than two weeks ago, so the Hurricanes will probably win or lose with Gerber on Monday night.

"That's the last guy we're worried about," center Kevyn Adams said. "When he steps on the ice, we know he's going to be ready, we know he's going to fight and do everything he can. Those kind of nights happen."

The Canadiens weren't expecting a change, either. Coach and general manager Bob Gainey gave his players an optional workout Sunday at the RBC Center, and about half of them took the opportunity to play soccer in a parking lot right outside the arena.

"You have to enjoy when you win, that's part of the package," Gainey said. "We will, at some point, kind of let go of last night and turn our direction toward tomorrow night. I think that's fine when people have a little bit of fun."

Of course, they had a lot of it at Gerber's expense in the opener, with 12 players piling up points for Montreal. Alexei Kovalev had two goals and an assist while Niklas Sundstrom and Tomas Plekanec each had two assists.

Kovalev's first goal came early in the second period, when he got the puck near the right circle and patiently skated in on net. Finally, he took a shot, and it easily beat Gerber over his right shoulder to give the Canadiens a 3-1 lead.

"I just had too much space and too much time on my hands," Kovalev said. "I could shoot anywhere I wanted. I felt like it was practice."

Once they fell way behind, the Hurricanes flooded their offensive zone with skaters in an attempt to rally, so Gerber doesn't take all the blame for the final couple goals. And his counterpart, Cristobal Huet, was sensational in his playoff debut, with 42 saves.

Carolina would have had a difficult time winning no matter how Gerber played.

"At the end of the day, whether we lost 2-1 or 10-1, it makes no difference," captain Rod Brind'Amour said. "We've got to score more goals. If you're going to have a bad game, you might as well have it like that, because we all know we have to be better."

One person who can help is left winger Ray Whitney, who missed the final six games of the regular season and Game 1 with a groin injury. He proclaimed himself ready to return as the Hurricanes try to even the series.

How important is he? Carolina is 14-0-1 this season when Whitney scores a goal.

"I'm good enough to go," he said. "I just want to get in there and contribute like I know I can. I don't think by any means I'm a savior to this team, but I think there's times during the game I can help out."