Canes, Ward ready for a playoff push

Goalie expected to start long run

Staff writerMarch 7, 2011 

  • Thrashers at Hurricanes

    When: 7 p.m. Wednesday

    Where: RBC Center, Raleigh

    TV: FSCR

    Radio: WCMC-99.9

Cam Ward's streak of consecutive starts in goal for the Carolina Hurricanes ended at 24 games Friday, when he was given a break.

But that's it, coach Paul Maurice said Sunday. The Hurricanes have 16 games remaining in the regular season, and Ward should start them all, meaning he would play in 40 of the past 41.

"He should be well-rested and fresh," Maurice said. "We have enough blocks of time off between our blocks of games. We ran him 22, 23, 24 in a row ... so this should be easy for him.

"Unless something comes up where he's not right or not feeling right ... I would expect him to be ready to go."

Ward had 41 saves and was the winner Thursday in the Canes' 3-2 overtime victory over the Buffalo Sabres. The goalie likes to play in back-to-back sets, but Maurice elected to start Justin Peters in net against the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday.

Maurice said Ward did not ask to sit out the game in Chicago.

"He won't do that," Maurice said. "Even if there's an injury or there's something you're worried about, he's not going to tell you he can't play. None of those guys will."

Last season, Ward started 24 straight games, then was sidelined the next 18 games with a back injury. Ward has not had a recurrence of the back problems this season, but Maurice said he was not given the option to play or sit against the Blackhawks, the defending Stanley Cup champions.

"We assessed where he was physically after the [Buffalo] game and made that decision after that game," Maurice said.

The Hurricanes (31-26-9) were seventh in the NHL's Eastern Conference after the win over the Sabres. But the New York Rangers moved back into seventh Friday with a victory, and the Sabres pulled into eighth place, one point ahead of the Canes, after wins on Saturday and Sunday.

Forward Jussi Jokinen said he did some scoreboard-watching on Saturday.

"I saw Philly was up 2-0 in the first, and when I got home Buffalo had beaten them 5-3," Jokinen said. "It's the time of the year you have to see how other teams are playing. There are six teams fighting for three spots. It's so tight."

The Hurricanes planned to use Sunday's practice at the RecZone for some five-on-five work, but a broken compressor left the rink surface looking more like a pond than ice. Maurice said it was "no big deal" and that the plan was to give the players two days off before Wednesday's game against the Atlanta Thrashers at the RBC Center.

The even-strength work likely would have had Jokinen centering a line with Jeff Skinner and Tuomo Ruutu on the wings. Skinner had been centering Ruutu and Chad LaRose the past few games, with Jokinen playing a wing on Brandon's Sutter's line. But Maurice made the change late in the Chicago game - Jokinen to center, Skinner to a wing, LaRose to Sutter's line - and said he may keep it for the Thrashers game.

"We think strength down the middle is a very critical piece to this," Maurice said. "Jeff's done a good job there, but he's spending a lot of energy on the breakouts, and he's not conserving as much. Maybe it's time ... "

Skinner scored his 23rd goal of the season against the Blackhawks after going to the wing. He was 0-for-12 on faceoffs against the Blackhawks - Carolina was 19-for-47 as a team - and has made some defensive mistakes the past few games at center.

"The fact of the matter is we've had a bunch of guys struggling [on draws]," Maurice said. "He's got to learn. ... But our best faceoff man [Jokinen] is sitting on the wing right now. We'll probably have to get [Jokinen] taking more of those faceoffs."

Jokinen said he was fine playing wherever Maurice wanted him.

"Right now, it's just finding ways to get points in the standings," Jokinen said. "The coaching staff is trying to figure out the best possible lineup to do that. If that's me in the middle as the best chance to get points, I'm right there to help the team.

"We had a couple of good games early in the season, in Finland, as a line. After that, it has been 60 games I haven't been in the middle, but I got a little taste last game and have some practice days coming up. If they want me there, I'll be comfortable there."

chip.alexander@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8945

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