RALEIGH — It's not a moment Cam Ward likes to recall and one the Carolina Hurricanes goalie insists he will not repeat.
During the Canes' Dec. 9 road game against the Winnipeg Jets, Ward was pulled by coach Kirk Muller early in the second period and then had an emotional meltdown on the bench, letting out a few expletives. Two days later, Ward said he was sorry for the outburst and said he would put all his energies, physically and emotionally, into his goaltending.
Tonight, Ward and the Canes face the Jets at the RBC Center. Since that night in Winnipeg, Ward has gone 8-4-5 and has allowed more than three goals just twice in those 17 games.
"There are times in the year when emotions get to you and it becomes draining, and it was for me at the beginning of the year," Ward said Sunday. "I was able to put it aside and just focus on what I need to do on the ice.
"I kind of used that energy and just came back and began playing my game. That's just being sound positionally and trying to give your team a chance to win on a nightly basis."
In the past eight games, Ward has not given up more than two goals and has a .952 save percentage. He shut out the Washington Capitals 3-0 on Friday at the RBC Center, then had 38 saves Saturday in the Canes' 2-1 overtime road loss to the New York Islanders.
"Sometimes it's not the saves you make but the goals you let in and you have to be strong mentally for 60 minutes, just as Muller stresses for the team in a game," Ward said. "I feel like I'm doing a good job of doing that and I've been rewarded.
"I feel like in these last few games I've been seeing the puck really well. .. When I'm calm and relaxed in the net I'm able to control my rebounds and not over-commit on shots. I've also been getting a lot of help from my teammates. We've been playing much better in our own zone and that makes my job a lot easier."
As one of the Canes' highest-paid players, Ward's job will never be easy.
Much is expected, as Canes captain Eric Staal can attest.
"No question," Staal said Sunday. "With the pressure of trying to make sure we got back to the playoffs, then to get off to a tough start and not what we wanted, there's a lot of added pressure on yourself. You want it so bad and then it seems to be getting worse.
"But he's a competitive guy. He stayed with it, battled through it and has been playing his best hockey."
Staal, noting Ward's Winnipeg outburst, said there are times when a player needs to "blow out some steam."
"With him, you don't ever see that," Staal said. "You see him very calm and collected. But maybe in some way it was good for him to get it off his chest and then from there regroup. He has been very, very good since."
Muller was quick to defend Ward after the Winnipeg game, saying his goalie's anger only showed how much he cared about winning. It was the second time in three games Muller had pulled Ward, putting in rookie Mike Murphy.
Ward, who is 17-17-8 overall with a 2.91 goals-against average and .908 save percentage, has been a workhorse since, starting 17 of the past 19 games.
"He's gone through a tough stretch this year," Muller said Sunday, "and it's probably good for anyone in their career that when they come out of it ... they're that much better as an athlete and as a leader.
"He is one of the leaders of the team. He went through that stretch and is now coming out of it. He's looking confident, looking like the goalie that we know."
A year ago, Ward made his first NHL All-Star Game appearance. The game was hosted by the Hurricanes in Raleigh and Staal, as an All-Star team captain, made Ward the first pick of the new Player Fantasy Draft.
This year, only rookie defenseman Justin Faulk was chosen to represent Carolina at the 2012 All-Star Weekend. No Staal, no Ward.
Ward said he might take his family to the beach during the break. Somewhere warm, he said. Then, he will be back to it on the ice.
"Last year was such a strong regular season for me," Ward said. "I felt I was really on top of my game. These last eight to 10 games, I feel like I'm back there. Hopefully it will only get better."