RALEIGH — Cam Ward and Eric Staal have been called the cornerstones of the Carolina Hurricanes franchise by general manager Jim Rutherford.
But the Hurricanes, caught up in a nightmarish season and winless in their past 12 games, now will be without both stars after Ward suffered a laceration of the upper left leg Saturday in a 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Ward will be sidelined a minimum of three to four weeks, Rutherford said Sunday, forcing the team to make a goaltending decision. Staal has missed the past three games with an upper-body injury and should be sidelined another couple of weeks, Rutherford said.
"From the information I've been given, it's expected to be about a month," Rutherford said of Ward's recovery time. "I feel so bad for him. This just goes with everything else that has gone on this season."
Rutherford said the Hurricanes were considering various options: trading for a goaltender, signing one or calling up Justin Peters from the Albany River Rats of the American Hockey League.
Ward was injured in the first period Saturday at Nationwide Arena. He was cut in the upper left leg by the skate of the Jackets' Rick Nash, had to be helped from the ice and was taken to Riverside Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, for evaluation and treatment.
Ward was expected to be kept overnight at the hospital and then return to Raleigh on Sunday, but Rutherford said Ward would stay at the hospital another day as a precaution. He will be re-evaluated today by Marty Isbell, the team's head orthopedic physician.
"He's stitched up, but he has to stay real stable," Rutherford said. "They want to be careful about infections and those things."
Backup goaltender Michael Leighton took over in net and was the loser as the Jackets, trailing 1-0 after two periods, scored three times early in the third. Leighton has appeared in three games this season with one start -- at Philadelphia on Oct. 31 in a 6-1 loss.
The Hurricanes are expected to look to sign someone with NHL experience. A good possibility could be Manny Legace, 36, who played for the Los Angeles Kings, Detroit Red Wings and St. Louis Blues and has 177 NHL wins.
Legace had a tryout with the Atlanta Thrashers in preseason camp this year and is with the Chicago Wolves of the AHL.
The Hurricanes reached the Eastern Conference finals in the playoffs last season and believed they could contend for the Stanley Cup this year. But they're now 2-11-3, falling to last place in the NHL standings.
"It's like they have a big cloud over them," Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock said Saturday.
Forward Erik Cole fractured a bone in his left leg in the second game of the season and missed the next 10 games. Staal then had his consecutive-game streak -- 349 regular-season games, plus 43 in the playoffs -- end.
Winger Ray Whitney, sidelined the past two games with an upper-body injury, could return Wednesday for the game against the Kings at the RBC Center, Rutherford said. Zach Boychuk, who was called up from Albany to replace Whitney in the lineup, was reassigned to the River Rats on Sunday.
Rutherford said if Whitney is not able to play, the Hurricanes may bring back Boychuk or forward Patrick Dwyer from the Rats.
Rutherford said he quickly realized Ward's injury was a bad one when he saw the goaltender doubled over in pain.
"He's the type who'll get hit and never lets on," Rutherford said. "When he did not get up, I knew it was more serious."
Ward is hoping to be chosen to Team Canada for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, but the injury could damage his chances. Among those in contention for a spot on the Canadian team is Steve Mason, the Blue Jackets' goalie and winner Saturday.
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