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Losses hard to stomach as bug gives Canadiens a weekend to forget

And with about half his players recovering from a gastro-intestinal bug, the Montreal Canadiens went down to their season-high third consecutive defeat in a 3-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Sunday.

"I'm looking forward to this being over and for guys to get their strength back," Carbonneau said. "When you feel like that and you play on consecutive days, it's tough."

"We were able to create some chances, but the second and third effort was tough to find with the way things were."

The bug first hit the club during a 5-1 loss in Washington on Thursday. Five players were bit by the bug on Friday, when practice was cancelled, and they were still weak during a 4-3 loss to the New York Rangers on Saturday afternoon.

Captain Saku Koivu and rookie Guillaume Latendresse had to stay home for that game, but were back on Sunday, when centre Tomas Plekanec rested at home.

"I've seen two or three guys get sick, but that many? Never," said Carbonneau. "And playing three games in four days made it worse."

Defenceman Sheldon Souray said the bug caused vomiting, diarrhea and crushing tiredness.

"Personally, I'm still so sick it's unbelievable and I'm not the only guy," said Souray. "It's been a battle this weekend, and we played two really good teams, also."

"We've got to get a day of rest and then hopefully we'll have everybody back."

Carbonneau has ordered the entire team to stay home Monday. He hopes to have stronger bodies for a home game Tuesday night against the Atlanta Thrashers.

The Canadiens were also missing centre Radek Bonk, who was hit in the face by a puck on Saturday. Carbonneau said it does not appear to be a long-term injury.

It moved the coach to use nearly 20 line combinations as he managed ice time for the strong and the weak with two experienced centres available. One shift featured a line of winger Mike Johnson with two defencemen - Mark Streit and Janne Niinimaa.

"It was scrambled eggs all over," Souray said of the line juggling. "We're doing the best we can with what we've got."

Not all in the sellout crowd of 21,273 understood as some booed the team's listless effort and inability to create chances, even though they were playing against one of the NHL's best defensive clubs.

But the Canadiens weren't playing well even before the bug hit and have now lost six of their last eight games.

"It's frustrating. but no one's more frustrated than us," added Souray. "We're not really worried about the fans right now, we're worried about what we have to do to get better."

Added forward Chris Higgins, one of the few players who hasn't been ill: "Everything's happening at once at the worst possible time. Like myself. I'm not playing well and it just coincides with the rest of the team not playing well."

"And with guys being sick, it magnifies everything. It's just a mess now. It's something we're trying to deal with."

Montreal had the second-best record in the Eastern Conference before its slump and now sits fourth, but the cushion it built early in the season is starting to slip away.

"As bad as we're playing now, with all the games in hand we have, we're still there (in playoff position)," said Carbonneau.


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