RALEIGH — RALEIGH -- Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward has kept an eye on the fan balloting for the 2011 NHL All-Star game at the RBC Center.
The biggest surprise, Ward said, is not that he's eighth in votes so far among the goalies, Ward said.
"I see Chad LaRose is doing really well," he said Friday, smiling.
LaRose, a write-in candidate at forward, has 3,000 more votes than Canes captain Eric Staal. Online voting for the Jan. 30 game ends Monday.
Adding a comic touch to the unexpected voting totals is the All-Star Game commercial shot by Staal and LaRose a few months ago. Staal lifts a sign that says "Rosey is Rad! Vote for Chad," expecting LaRose to then put in a nice plug for him. Instead, a grinning LaRose raises a sign that says "Rosey is Riveting! Vote Chad LaRose 2011 All-Star Game."
"He might have to win an Oscar for that," Ward said of LaRose.
While the players enjoy teasing each other about it, Ward does want to be a part of this All-Star Game, in his home arena. He's very serious about that.
"It's a goal of mine, but I'm not going to let myself get too wrapped up in it," he said. "Obviously, I'm not going to be voted in by the fans, but we'll see what happens."
There are those who say Ward should not be left out given his play and what he has meant to the Hurricanes this season. In his last 16 games, Ward has a 1.88 goals-against average and a .945 save percentage.
"I've seen him play a long time, but I've never seen him play better," Canes coach Paul Maurice said. "He has made the somewhat difficult saves look routine while making the great saves we expect of him."
Through Thursday's games, Ward was second in the NHL to Anaheim Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller in saves (943) - while playing three fewer games - and was tied for third in save percentage (.927). Ward also was 6-3-1 in December, shutting out the Ottawa Senators 4-0 with 37 saves on Wednesday.
"The important thing is we were able to get some wins this month," Ward said. "My focus has been on giving our team a chance to win every night that I play. Fortunately, things have gone a lot better this month, and hopefully we can continue it going into January."
To play in the All-Star Game, Ward must be chosen by NHL Hockey Operations to be included in the new "Fantasy Draft." The fans select three forwards, two defensemen and a goaltender, and a Hockey Operations panel adds 36 players to fill out the All-Star draft pool. Each NHL team is assured of having at least one All-Star representative.
"There's no doubt our two best players have been Eric and Cam, and they deserve the opportunity to play in the All-Star Game," Canes general manager Jim Rutherford said. "I'm going to give as strong a recommendation as I can to the league. They may not read it, but we certainly hope to have both in the game."
Ward, 26, incorporated Pilates into some strenuous offseason workouts. Added flexibility, he said, has thus far prevented the back problems that hindered him last season.
"Knock on wood, this is probably the best I have felt in a long, long time," Ward said. "But I realize I have to keep doing what I'm doing and continue to play well and feel good about it."
Canes notes: The Hurricanes (17-15-4) face the New Jersey Devils today at the RBC Center in the first game of 2011, and Carolina will again be without injured forward Jussi Jokinen and defenseman Joni Pitkanen. Jokinen dressed for practice Friday but left the ice after 10 minutes. Both players are "day to day," Maurice said.
The Devils took a 9-25-2 record into Friday's road game against the Atlanta Thrashers, but Ward again should see future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur in the opposing net tonight.
The Hurricanes recalled forward Zac Dalpe and defenseman Brett Carson from the Charlotte Checkers of the American Hockey League (AHL). The players are being recalled on an emergency basis and will be available for the Canes' game today.
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