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Associated Press
11/30/2006 11:01:57 PM

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - After three losses in four games, Peter Laviolette talked with his Carolina Hurricanes players in what he called a ''regrouping'' meeting. The message was simple: play hard and remember to have fun.

It was apparently something the defending Stanley Cup champions needed to hear.

Justin Williams and Eric Belanger scored less than a minute apart in the third period to lead the Hurricanes past the Montreal Canadiens 4-2 on Thursday night. The Hurricanes displayed a strong overall performance that looked a lot more like something from last year's team instead of the one that has stumbled occasionally through its title defence.

Erik Cole added a pair of goals off his own rebounds for the Hurricanes, who finished with a season-high 48 shots to keep steady pressure on Montreal goalie Cristobal Huet. Cam Ward had 25 saves on the other end.

''We're a real good hockey team and there's a lot of expectation that goes with winning the Stanley Cup,'' Laviolette said. ''But I think every once in a while you've got to step back and just enjoy the game. Enjoy each other. Play hard - trust me that was in the message - but while playing hard, enjoy it and have fun.

''I thought we did that today. Guys looked loose. They looked relaxed and they played extremely hard.''

The win came against a Montreal team that beat Carolina here 4-0 on Nov. 2 and had won four of its past five games. Michael Ryder and Tomas Plekanec scored for the Canadiens, while Huet finished with 44 saves despite being under relentless pressure.

Cole led that Hurricanes surge, finishing with 11 shots in addition to those first- and second- period scores.

''It just seemed like every time we came across the line with the puck,'' Cole said, ''things were opening up for us.''

The Hurricanes surpassed their previous season high of 40 shots - set three times - yet still found themselves in a 2-2 game before finally pushing ahead with the goals from Williams and Belanger.

''We knew they were a team that has been having some struggles lately,'' Canadiens defenceman Michael Komisarek said. ''The longer you let a team like that play, the more confidence they get and the more they believe in themselves. We had some chances early on in the first and we could have buried them. We can't allow 48 shots and expect to win.''

Williams put Carolina ahead to stay when he took a pass from Ray Whitney and flipped a backhand shot by Huet from near the right circle at 12:27 of the third. Then, after a battle along the boards in the Montreal zone, Belanger corralled the puck and flipped a shot by Huet for a 4-2 lead at 13:13.

The Canadiens struck first when Ryder took a short pass from Guillaume Latendresse and beat Ward from the right side of the crease midway through the first period.

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