RALEIGH — The Carolina Hurricanes have lost goaltender Cam Ward for six to eight weeks because of a knee injury.
The question now is whether the Canes can survive without him.
The Hurricanes (12-8-1) lead the NHLs Southeast Division by four points after back-to-back wins against the Florida Panthers. But Ward might be out the remainder of the regular season after being injured in the second period of Sundays game in Sunrise, Fla.
Ward had an MRI on Monday that revealed a third-degree sprain of the MCL in his left knee. No surgery was required.
The Hurricanes placed Ward on injured reserve and recalled goalie Justin Peters on an emergency basis from the Charlotte Checkers of the American Hockey League. Dan Ellis, who played in Charlotte during the NHL lockout, takes over as the Canes No. 1 goalie.
Youre not able to replace Cam Ward. I think everyone understands that, Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford said Monday. Its hard to replace your No. 1 goalie. But we do have confidence in our other two goalies.
When you have an injury issue in one area of your team, everyone has to step up and help. This injury will heal. Cam will need to rehab it, but he can be back for the playoffs and will be rested. We as a team need to make sure we get there.
Ward was injured in a collision with Canes defenseman Justin Faulk and Panthers forward Jack Skille, who was driving the net. Skille and Faulk went down with Skille sliding by the post and appearing to clip Wards left leg while Faulk tumbled into Ward, knocking him into the net.
The game was stopped briefly and Ward remained in net. But moments later, he kicked out his left leg for a Panthers shot that was wide and fell forward in the crease, the pain apparent.
Ward had to be helped from the ice. He was replaced by Ellis, who was scheduled to start Sunday but fell ill a few hours before the game.
Ellis stopped 19 of 21 shots and the Canes won 3-2. The NHL veteran has a 3-2-0 record this season with a 2.53 goals-against average and has been a capable backup.
Peters is 22-12-1 with the Checkers with a 2.29 GAA, .921 save percentage and six shutouts, and was named to the Western Conference team for the 2013 AHL All-Star Classic. He had 33 saves Sunday in the Checkers 3-2 victory against the Oklahoma City Barons.
His development has been very good and hes having his best year as a pro, Rutherford said. Hes had an exceptional year in Charlotte.
Ellis, 32, was with the Anaheim Ducks last season but wound up without an NHL contract for this season. He received a tryout with the Checkers, made their roster and played well.
When the lockout ended and there was a rush to fill out NHL rosters, the Canes decided Ellis was the best option as Wards backup and signed him to a one-year contract.
Having minutes during the lockout was a huge benefit for a goalie, because its all about timing, Ellis said. I had the ability to play 18 games and that was huge, and I was playing in the same organization and with the same system as here, making it an easy transition.
Now, hes the Canes No. 1 guy.
He has good experience in the league and we havent been surprised by his performance, Rutherford said.
Ward has had some injury issues. He was out 18 games because of back problems in 2009-2010, the same season he missed 13 games after being slashed on the leg by a skate.
Ward has proved to be durable the past two seasons. He played 74 games in 2010-2011 and 68 last season.
Recently, Canes captain Eric Staal was talking about potential injuries and the impact they could have on a shortened season.
We knew going into the year that a lot of teams would have to deal with certain injuries to certain players at certain times, he said.
The Hurricanes now must deal with a big one.