RALEIGH — Carolina Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward is fully focused during games but said he does notice the reaction of the home crowd after a big save.
When Ward made a diving stop Sunday on Colin Greening of the Ottawa Senators, thrusting out his stick to knock away the puck, PNC Arena thundered.
"I got goosebumps after that one," Ward said after the Canes' 4-1 victory. "We play this game for a living and you make a save like that and I turn into a little kid."
The first-period save on Greening was one of 35 stops for Ward as the Canes ended a four-game winless streak. That came a day after his 35-save effort against the Boston Bruins, albeit in a 3-2 overtime loss on the road, and was further evidence the Canes' No. 1 goalie is healthy and feeling good about himself.
A groin injury suffered Oct. 24 kept out Ward out for a 10-game stretch. But he returned last Monday to face the Bruins at PNC Arena, then was in net for the Canes' back-to-back, stopping 96 of 103 shots (.932) in the three games.
"The body feels good," Ward said. "It's about preparation and having the right mindset, in my eyes. It's been tough mentally to deal with the injuries I've had and not being able to play a whole lot of games, last year and this year. It's amazing how much the game is played mentally.
To reach the playoffs this season, the Canes likely will need a number of things to fall into place. One is Ward playing, well, like Ward. Another is Eric Staal playing like Eric Staal.
Both had serious knee injuries this year Ward in early March in a game at Florida, Staal in May at the IIHF World Championship in Sweden. Ward's injury limited him to 17 games last season, and he had played seven games this season before sustaining the groin tear early in the game at Minnesota.
Many believed the injury may have ended Ward's chances of being in the mix for the Canadian Olympic team for the 2014 Sochi Winter Games. But there's still more than a month left before the selections and enough time to make a favorable impression on Team Canada officials.
Ward was sharp and smooth in net Saturday against the Bruins, saying he was "moving extremely well and seeing the puck well." He was even better Sunday after giving up an early goal to Jason Spezza that had as much to do with the Canes' defensive breakdowns as Ward's play in net.
"I was proud of the way he responded," Staal said of Ward. "I thought he was phenomenal (against Boston) and kind of helped us steal a point. We came on in the third in Boston and were a lot better but his game was solid that whole game. He came back with another good one and that's huge."
So is Staal's play of late. He appeared to be laboring at times in the Canes' first 15 or so games, even while he continued to say he was fine physically and the knee was healed.
But the Canes captain had a goal and two assists against the Sens, was strong in all three zones and now has a six-game point streak. Staal's pass to Tuomo Ruutu, who was driving the net, led to the go-ahead goal for the Canes in the second period. Staal then set up Elias Lindholm for a power-play goal later in the period.
Ruutu's goal was his second in the past four games. A knee injury in preseason set him back but the winger is moving well and back to popping people.
"That's the Ruutu we expect and we demand," Canes coach Kirk Muller said. "He has to be one of the hardest working-players on our team. That's how he gets results."
But Ward's good play may be the biggest stress-reducer for Muller and the Canes.
"It's great seeing him back and in top form like that," Muller said. "The injury pushed him back and now he's put two good games together. We walk out of the last two games with three points and lot has to do with goaltending these days. That's a huge lift to have our goalie play that way."
NOTE: Canes forward Kevin Westgarth will have a hearing Tuesday with the NHL Department of Player Safety for his hit on defenseman Mark Borowiecki of the Ottawa Senators in Sunday's game. Westgarth was penalized for boarding, and Borowiecki was helped off the ice and did not return to the game.
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