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STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS : Desjardins: From Stopper to Scorer : Game 2: He breaks from slump and scores all three goals in Canadiens' victory over Kings.


MONTREAL — Knowing it was his job to drill Wayne Gretzky as often as possible--providing he could first catch the King center--didn't faze Montreal defenseman Eric Desjardins.

Knowing the Canadiens' Stanley Cup hopes rested on their ability to prevail over Kelly Hrudey, who had shown few signs of wilting under a furious Montreal attack, barely made him break a sweat.

Only once Thursday was Desjardins even slightly ruffled, and the puck wasn't even in play when his jitters surfaced.

"Sure, I was a little bit nervous then," he said of the wait before referee Kerry Fraser found the excessive curvature of Marty McSorley's stick with 1:45 to play in the third period. "You just hope it's going to be illegal. It's a call we had to do."

The call set up the six-on-four power play that led to Desjardins' game-tying goal, creating an energy surge the Canadiens carried into overtime. Desjardins became the first defenseman ever to score three goals in the Stanley Cup finals when he powered a shot past Hrudey from the right circle 51 seconds into overtime, giving Montreal a 3-2 victory.

"It's a big one. You go into L.A. (0-2), it's hard to come back," said Desjardins, who led Montreal's defensmen in scoring during the season with career-highs of 13 goals and 45 points. During the playoffs, he had scored only one goal and had been slipping on defense.

"We worked very hard to come back, and now we don't have to think about it because it's a 1-1 series."

Desjardins, who has a hard, low wrist shot, became the seventh defenseman in NHL history to record a playoff hat trick. He follows Bobby Orr, Dick Redmond, Denis Potvin, Paul Reinhart (twice), Doug Halward and Al Iafrate.

Desjardins, 23, couldn't recall having a three-goal game since his pee wee days in Rouyn, a town in northern Quebec.

"I never dreamed of this," he said, shaking his head. "It's a dream today, but you cannot get too high when you win like this. For sure, it was emotional, but now we have to focus on the next game."

That the Canadiens are not looking back in regret at Thursday's game is due largely to Desjardins. A solid 6 feet 1 and 200 pounds, he used his muscle to jar Gretzky whenever possible and several times forced the Kings into turnovers by simply overpowering them.

Gretzky was held scoreless Thursday. Desjardins wasn't on the ice for either of the Kings' goals.

"He had a great night. He's been a steady defenseman," Demers said of Desjardins, who has played four seasons with Montreal.

Paired with Mathieu Schneider, Desjardins showed his mobility and led the Canadiens' defense by example.

"The first game, we were a little bit flat and we let them play their game," Desjardins said. "Tonight, we did a good job on (Gretzky). We hit him when we could. That is the player we have to key on, and if we can stop him, we are in good shape."

Desjardins put the Canadiens ahead with his first goal, during a four-on-four, and after the Kings had gone ahead, 2-1, he evened things up with his second goal, after the McSorley penalty.

"At that point, we had to try anything to win the game. Jacques made a desperate call," said Schneider, whose pass to Vincent Damphousse initiated the play.

They won because of Desjardins' hard shot and Benoit Brunet's tenacity in digging out the rebound of his first attempt; with that goal, Desjardins restored the Canadiens' confidence and silenced the detractors who read their every wobble as a potential catastrophe.

"I think when you are a professional, you have to be ready, when you do not play well, to face the critics," he said. "When you lose, they are going to criticize you and when you win, they are going to congratulate you. That is when you have to be a professional. . . .

"The next game, you never know. For sure, we are playing great now, and we have to try to carry that to the next game."

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