The Carolina Hurricanes began the season believing they had one of the league's best 1-2 goaltending tandems in Cam Ward and Anton Khudobin.
Now, No. 1 is injured. So is No. 2.
Ward's lower-body injury Thursday in a 3-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center was jolting, like a body punch. The Canes' top goalie is expected to be out three to four weeks.
Ward's injury came 11 days after Khudobin suffered a lower-body injury against the Phoenix Coyotes. While the Russian could be back skating with the team by Sunday, Canes coach Kirk Muller said he may not be ready to return to the lineup for another week.
It's sometimes stunning how quickly things can turn in the NHL. Or how many injuries one team can absorb at one position.
Ward has had back problems in the past. He was slashed near a knee in 2009 after taking a skate from Rick Nash, then playing for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
In March, Ward had a third-degree sprain of the left medial collateral ligament that ended his 2013 season. And backup Dan Ellis, elevated to the No. 1 goaltending spot, then cut himself during a game and later had knee issues.
With that said, the Hurricanes again will turn to Justin Peters for … who knows how long it will be? And it's not as if he hasn't been in this position before, trying to help hold the Canes' season together.
"This is his opportunity and he's got to find a way to get the job done," Canes coach Kirk Muller said.
Peters, 27, has a one-way contract this year that pays him $550,000 and he expected to be Ward's backup. But that was before the Canes signed Khudobin to a one-year, $800,000 free-agent contract in July, changing the goaltending dynamic.
Peters was assigned to the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL during training camp, not playing in a preseason game.
"I know he was disappointed when he went down this year and felt he was a better goalie than last year," Muller said. "He's going to get that chance right now."
The Canes finished up the road trip Friday against the streaking Colorado Avalanche. On Monday, it's the Pittsburgh Penguins at PNC Arena.
For now, Peters is No. 1. He's the guy.
"I'm sure he's going to be excited to show he can play in the NHL," Muller said.
The Canes on Thursday quickly recalled goalie Mike Murphy from the Checkers to serve as Peters' backup.
Because of the AHL's discombobulated schedule, Peters had played just one game for the Checkers before being recalled on an emergency basis after Khudobin was injured.
Asked about his readiness, Peters said, "I've had a lot of shots in practice."
"No, I felt ready," he added. "I didn't know with the back-to-back games if I was going to get in (against Colorado) or not, or what the plan was. I knew before long hopefully I would get an opportunity. It came a little earlier than I thought."
Thrust into the Wild game barely four minutes into the first period, Peters allowed a power-play goal to Nino Niederreiter and then had the Wild's Zach Parise score as the forward crashed the net for a rebound. But he then had 16 saves in the second and third periods as the Canes fought back into the game.
Alexander Semin's power-play goal in the second period made it 2-1 and the Canes had other power plays, other scoring chances. Carolina had 1:45 of power-play time and fresh ice to begin the third period but couldn't convert, and the clincher in a tight game came on an empty-netter in the final minute.
"Cam went down and you hate to see that with anybody, but I did think 'Petey' came in and played well for us and gave us a chance to win," Canes defenseman Justin Faulk said. "We hope nothing is too bad with Cam. But that's the way hockey is and the game is played. Guys get hurt. But Petey did a good job."
Peters is in his fifth NHL season. He played a career-high 19 games for the Canes last season and his numbers weren't good: a 3.46 goals-against average and 4-11-1 record.
But the Blyth, Ont., native had flashes of good play. In his season debut, he stopped 37 of 40 shots in a win over the Buffalo Sabres. Later, he shut out the Washington Capitals with 26 saves.
"Hopefully I can learn from my past experience," Peters said. "Just one period at a time, one save at a time and try to instill some trust and some confidence in these guys that I'm going to do the job back there.
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