Cam Ward insisted he treated his 500th career game as just another game.
None of his Carolina Hurricanes teammates believed him, of course.
For a goaltender, 500 games in the NHL is both rare and special. Ward became only the fifth active goalie to reach that milestone Tuesday and the 64th in NHL history.
Nor would his teammates let him lose it. The Hurricanes topped the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 at PNC Arena, and the 6,000-or-so fans who turned out on a snowy night gave Ward a nice ovation at the end.
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“It was clear our guys wanted to put in a really strong effort tonight,” Ward said. “I really appreciate that, and it makes it a lot sweeter when you can walk out of here with a win.”
The Hurricanes played with energy and never trailed during the Metropolitan Division game against the Flyers, a resurgent team that has clawed its way back into playoff contention.
Justin Faulk and Jordan Staal supplied power-play goals, and Jeff Skinner and Jay McClement added even-strength scores for the Canes. Skinner’s goal, his fifth in the past seven games, and Staal’s came in the second period as the Canes, who skated well and quickly to the puck all night, took a 3-1 lead.
Ward, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2006 while leading the Canes to the Stanley Cup, earned his 240th career win. The victory was his fifth in his past six starts, earning him first-star honors for the game and the fireman’s helmet for game MVP from his teammates.
“I think the guys wanted to make sure it was a memorable night,” Canes coach Bill Peters said.
Peters reeled off the active goalies with 500 or more games – Roberto Luongo, Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan Miller, Marc-Andre Fleury.
“There’s Stanley Cup winners, there’s Conn Smythe winners, there’s Olympians,” Peters said. “He’s in tall cotton there. He’s elite in my opinion.”
The Flyers were 8-1-4 in their past 13 games before Tuesday. Rob Zepp made his third start in four days in net after goalie Ray Emery suffered a lower-body injury in practice Monday.
Zepp, a fourth-round draft pick by the Canes in 2001, made his NHL debut this season at age 33 and had a 5-1 record. But the Canes (22-30-7) pressured him from the start, forcing the Flyers (26-24-11) into early turnovers and firing 15 shots in the first period.
Faulk, who also had an assist, scored on a one-timer from the left circle for a 1-0 lead after Zepp had stopped rebounds by Eric Staal and Jiri Tlusty.
The Flyers tied the score at 1 in the first when Jakub Voracek carried the puck behind the net and backhanded a pass to defenseman Niklas Grossmann, who wristed a shot past Ward.
Skinner struck a little more than two minutes into the second for his 15th of the season, off a nice setup pass from Alexander Semin. Defenseman Brett Bellemore got the puck up the right wing to Semin, who found Skinner unchecked at the bottom of the left circle as center Riley Nash drove the middle.
Semin had a pair of assists and a season-high seven shots in one of the best games he has played during a frustrating season.
“I thought (Semin) was real good,” Peters said. “He moved his feet, shot the puck.”
The Canes killed off a tripping penalty by Jordan Staal later in the second. Staal then scored for the 3-1 lead. Faulk’s shot from the point was tipped by Semin in front of the crease, and Staal was able to convert for his fourth goal of the season.
That left it up to Ward, who faced 24 shots. He made a sharp stop early on Claude Giroux and another on Pierre-Edouard Bellemare’s shot with the Canes leading 2-1 in the second.
In the third, Ward got his right pad on a shot by Michael Del Zotto, followed by back-to-back saves against Sean Couturier and Andrew MacDonald.
McClement’s goal, off an assist from Brad Malone, then sealed the win.
Ward, who turns 31 this week, will be honored with the NHL’s milestone award in a ceremony Friday when Carolina hosts the Washington Capitals.
His teammates honored him Tuesday with a victory.
“He’s been through a lot the last couple of years,” Eric Staal said. “We’re happy for him: 500 a lot of games and hopefully there’s a lot more for him.”
Ward hopes so too.
“I feel like I’ve got a lot of hockey left in me,” Ward said. “Now my focus will be on 501.”