Canes goalie Peters battling to prove himself

calexander@newsobserver.comOctober 31, 2013 

— Goaltender Justin Peters seemed down and out in the crease and Jordan Staal was looking at an open net Thursday during Carolina Hurricanes practice.

But just as Staal was lifting the puck, Peters quickly thrust up his stick and knocked away the shot, creating a stir among his teammates.

Yes, it was practice. But it was just the kind of play Peters expects to make, Canes coach Kirk Muller wants him to make and the Canes need him to make in games.

With goalies Cam Ward and Anton Khudobin both injured and neither close to returning, Peters is the Canes’ No. 1 guy. Muller said he has “the ball” and Peters wants it.

“A couple of weeks ago if you asked me if I thought this would be happening I probably would have said no,” Peters said. “The crazy thing about this game is you never know when you’re going to get this opportunity.

“You’ve got to try and take advantage of the opportunities you get because you don’t know if you’re going to get one again. I’m trying to do my best. I’m trying to instill confidence in the team, starting in practice, so when it comes to the games it will be second nature.”

Peters, 27, was called up from the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL after Khudobin suffered a lower-body injury Oct. 13 against the Phoenix Coyotes. Muller turned the workload completely over to Ward, but everything changed last week when Ward left early in the Oct. 24 game against the Minnesota Wild with a lower-body injury.

Peters gave up two quick goals to the Wild in what would be a 3-1 road loss. The next night, against the Colorado Avalanche in Denver, he had 30 saves in a 4-2 loss.

On Monday, the Canes were beaten 3-1 by the Pittsburgh Penguins at PNC Arena. Peters had 26 saves, giving up goals on a rebound, a deflection and a tip-in following an impressive pass from the Pens’ Sidney Crosby to Chris Kunitz.

“He battled and he played hard,” Muller said.

But Muller wants more. So does Peters.

“A buddy of mine and I were taking about how you do your best but sometimes you have to do more,” Peters said. “You’ve got to give a little extra. That’s what I’m asking of myself right now, to give that little extra and try and help the boys here.”

Canes forward Brett Sutter was Peters’ teammate on the Checkers the past three seasons. Peters played a career-high 19 games for Carolina last season because of injuries to Ward and goalie Dan Ellis.

“He’s the ultimate pro,” Sutter said. “He’s at the rink every day, he’s the hardest working guy. He stays late and does his extra work.

“For him it’s been a long road. He’s been up and down (to Carolina) but never gets down about it. He just puts the work boots on the next day.”

Peters has good size at 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds and is athletic. Sutter said he also has a defenseman’s demeanor on the ice, willing to mix it up with opposing players who invade his crease.

“He’s a feisty guy. I think he should have been a D-man the way he competes and his mentality,” Sutter said.

Peters has a one-way contract this season that will pay him $550,000. The assumption was he would be Ward’s backup – until Khudobin signed a one-year, $800,000 contact this July.

“Obviously I’m disappointed it didn’t work out like that,” Peters said. “I’m just trying to get over that hump. It’s such a fine line between being here every day and being that third guy. I don’t want to be that third guy. I want to be here every day. But I’m here right now and that’s all I can control.”

Peters will make another start Friday against the Tampa Bay Lightning at PNC Arena. It’s likely he will be in net again Saturday for the Canes’ road game against the New York Rangers.

Ward may be sidelined another two to three weeks. Khudobin tried to skate Sunday but was sore, and Muller said he may not resume skating until early next week.

Rick DiPietro added more intrigue Saturday when he signed a professional tryout contract with the Checkers. The former New York Islanders goalie gave up four goals on 29 shots to the Grand Rapids Griffins in his first AHL start Wednesday.

Peters fondly recalls his NHL debut with the Canes. It was Feb. 6, 2010, on the road against the Islanders.

The Canes won 3-1 as Peters stopped 34 of 35 shots. The losing goalie? DiPietro.

“I’m a battler,” Peters said. “I keep fighting to prove myself. And I’ll keep doing that.”

Alexander: 919-829-8945 Twitter: @ice_chip

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