Cam Ward said he took at least five hard shots off his mask Friday but could joke about it later.
“Shows you I was using my head well,” the Carolina Hurricanes goalie said.
Ward smiled as he said it, and he easily was the game’s first star as the Canes outlasted the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 in an increasingly tense, if entertaining game at PNC Arena.
“It was a great atmosphere, almost a playoff-type feel,” Ward said.
The Canes won again at home. That’s 11 straight games at PNC Arena where they’ve earned points, going 10-0-1, turning it into a place for visiting teams to dread.
The turnout was a good one, although the crowd of 18,061 included a lot who came to cheer for the Blackhawks. What they saw was a game filled with big moments, unexpected turns.
The winning goal, for example. Blackhawks star Patrick Kane.trying to make a play with the puck off the boards in the Chicago zone, pressured by the Canes’ Sebastian Aho and Viktor Stalberg, zipped a pass across ice — to the Canes’ Jay McClement in the slot.
McClement, who had scored once this season, rifled a shot past goalie Scott Darling at 2:54 of the third. Another tape-to-tape pass by Kane, but not what he intended.
“All of sudden the puck was sitting there,” McClement said. “You don’t get those opportunities too often, so it was nice to bury it.”
The Canes’ first two goals both came from crashing the net. Elias Lindholm, who later was injured and left the game, tied the score 1-1 in the first by following up a rebound of a Jordan Staal shot. Lee Stempniak did the same 65 seconds later after Aho redirected a Teuvo Teravainen centering pass that Darling stopped but Stempniak didn’t miss.
Ward allowed a first-period goal to defenseman Michal Kempny and a third-period score by Vinnie Hinostroza, who had a Jonathan Toews pass go off his chest in front of Ward.
But Ward had some acrobatic stops among his 27 saves, remaining calm in the crease, even in the final two minutes of regulation when the Blackhawks pulled Darling for a sixth attacker and attacked at will.
In the second, Ward came well out of the crease to play the puck, only to whiff. Hinostroza pounced on it but Ward recovered enough to make the save.
The Canes (16-12-7) are proving to be resilient. A 3-2 road loss Wednesday to the Pittsburgh Penguins was a gut punch as the defending Stanley Cup champions scored late in regulation to win it.
“We obviously didn’t dwell on it long,” McClement said.
In came the Blackhawks (23-11-5), the Western Conference leaders who scored a 3-2 road win Thursday against Nashville. But the Canes, who ripped the ‘Hawks 5-0 at PNC Arena last year, won again.
“We’ve had some tough games in here. It’s much better than we saw last year, for sure,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said.
Teravainen was on that Blackhawks team, and the center has a Stanley Cup ring from 2015. Teravainen and Bryan Bickell were traded to Carolina in June as the ‘Hawks looked to clear some needed salary-cap space, and Teravainen was playing his first game against the team that drafted him in the first round in 2012.
Bickell also was in the house. Diagnosed with MS last month, the veteran forward seemed upbeat about his treatment and again said he believed he could return to hockey one day.
The Canes close out the 2016 portion of the schedule with a New Year’s Eve road game against Tampa Bay. Peters might use goalie Eddie Lack but isn’t ruling out Ward, again.
Peters wasn’t sure about Lindholm’s availability with an upper-body injury and defenseman Justin Faulk won’t be on the trip as he recovers from an upper-body injury.
“We’re having fun,” Ward said. “We just want to build off it.”
Even if it requires a few more shots to the head.