The Carolina Hurricanes have been leaning heavily on goalie Cam Ward in November.
They’ll need him even more now after Eddie Lack, the Canes’ backup goalie, suffered a concussion Monday in practice. Lack was placed on injured reserve and goalie Michael Leighton recalled from the Charlotte Checkers, the Canes’ AHL team, on an emergency basis.
Ward on Monday was named the NHL’s second star of the week after victories over the San Jose Sharks, Montreal Canadiens and Winnipeg Jets. The Canes topped the Jets 3-1 on Sunday, finishing off a homestand with their fourth straight victory, earning a standing ovation at PNC Arena.
“It’s nice to be recognized but mostly I’m just excited about what we’e doing as a group and this roll we’re on,” Ward said Monday.
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The Canes (7-6-4) begin a three-game road trip Tuesday against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Canes coach Bill Peters said Ward would make his seventh consecutive start, and with Lack out Ward again should be the starter at Montreal on Thursday.
Forward Jeff Carter of the Los Angeles Kings was selected the NHL’s first star of the week. Ward posted a 1.01 goals-against average and .964 save percentage for the week, blanking the San Jose Sharks 1-0 for his 24th career shutout and following with a 3-2 win over the Canadiens.
“He’s been unbelievable and the biggest reason for our recent success,” forward Jeff Skinner said Monday. “You look the saves he’s made, the timely saves, and being consistently solid throughout the game, and game to game. He’s a calming influence, which gives the players in front of him a lot more confidence.”
Ward has gone 5-1-2 with a 1.59 GAA and .944 save percentage in November, stringing together quality starts. “You just get into a rhythm and carry it over,” he said.
Ward likes to say he plays his best with a “quiet mind” — calm in the crease, instinctive, making economical moves and keeping things simple.
“He’s real level-headed, a real ‘Steady Eddy’ as far as that goes,” Peters said.
During the Canadiens game, Ward pulled off an old-school, double pad stack to stop a shot by Andrei Markov. He had 22 saves in the shutout of the Sharks and 28 against the Jets.
“He’s obviously not the biggest guy and the trend in the NHL now is big goalies who take up a lot of space,” Canes forward Lee Stempniak said. “He makes up for that with smarts. He’s pretty aggressive. He comes out and challenges at the right times. He reads the play really well.”
Ward was to become an unrestricted free agent in July and many wondered if the Canes would part ways with him as they did with Eric Staal, the former captain traded in February. General manager Ron Francis decided re-signing Ward was the best option and the two agreed on a two-year extension worth a total of $6.6 million.
October wasn’t a good month for the Canes (4-5-0) or Ward, who allowed five goals to the Jets in the season opener and four goals in losses to Detroit and Philadelphia. Some Canes fans took to social media to voice complaints — Ward has been a galvanizing figure — and it would have been easy, Ward agreed, to have a chip on his shoulder from the criticism he has faced.
“But I’m just enjoying playing, to be honest,” he said. “In the past, maybe I did play with a chip and I almost played too intense, and tried too hard because of that chip. Where I’m just enjoying going out and playing and having fun with it.”
Ward and Leighton were the Canes goalies in 2008-09, the last year the team was in the playoffs. Leighton, 35, signed a one-year, free-agent contract Sept. 7 with Carolina and has a 1.66 goals-against average and a .937 save percentage with the Checkers.
Canes at Toronto
When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
Where: Air Canada Centre
TV/Radio: TSN4, FSSE, WMCM-99.9