Eddie Lack was rock-solid in wins over Minnesota and Nashville last week.
Cam Ward has started the past two games, picking up the win Tuesday against the Florida Panthers.
With the regular season in its final stretch, Canes coach Bill Peters finally has what he wanted all along: two good, reliable options at goaltender.
The Canes (31-27-13), with points in their past eight games, face the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday in a road game at the Bell Centre, and Peters can keep the Habs guessing on his starting goalie, if he wants.
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Ward had 40 saves Sunday in the 4-3 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, then 33 in the 4-3 win Tuesday over the Panthers. Lack, in beating the Wild and Predators, stopped 57 of 60 shots and has won three of four starts — with a .946 save percentage — since being publicly chastised by Peters early this month.
“This is for sure the best I’ve felt this year,” Lack said last week. “I feel I’m seeing the puck well and not thinking too much. Just playing.”
Lack had the media — and Peters — laughing after the 3-1 win over the Wild when he spoke of staying in his “bubble” during the game. Asked what goes on in an Eddie Lack bubble, the Swede smiled and said, “You don’t want to know.”
Peters later quipped it’s best to stay out of a goalie’s bubble, saying, “The world will be a better place.”
Lack, 29, was in a bad place for a long stretch of this season. He suffered a concussion in practice in November, then said he had another after Christmas, missing a total of 26 games as Ward shouldered most of the workload in net.
But Lack did benefit from the time away, meeting with Dr. Bradley Hack, a sports psychologist with Carolina Strategies, a private practice in Cary. Hack is affiliated with UNC athletics and has professional athletes as clients.
“He’s a mental coach,” Lack said. “We talked about different scenarios and what I can do to stay in the moment and stay focused on what I have to do instead of thinking if I let the next goal in maybe I don’t get to play the next game.
“My whole career I’ve been kind of a thinking guy. Sometimes, I feel like there’s been too much going on in my mind during the games. I just wanted to get a few pointers to get myself back into the moment, into the present.”
Hack said he couldn’t discuss his work with Lack, noting client confidentiality, but said “distraction management” is important for all athletes.
This is for sure the best I’ve felt this year. I feel I’m seeing the puck well and not thinking too much. Just playing.
“From youth sports to professional to Olympians, once you’re at a certain level things become more complicated,” Hack said. “There’s more pressure, from the organization, coaches, parents.
“There are external and internal distractions. It might be what’s being written about you, things said about you on social media. It might be something at home, family issues. It follows you on the ice and you’re not 100 percent engaged.”
Hack said playing goalie is a “very tough gig.” A goalie never leaves the ice and must be sharp at all times, he said, noting, “Those who are mentally tough can stay that focused.”
Hack said he provides mental tools to keep athletes from being distracted, and Lack said staying in his “bubble” is a part of that.
For Lack, the mental side has improved. So has his technique. Working with Canes goaltender coach Dave Marcoux, the 6-4 goalie has been more aggressive in the crease and played taller in net, not slouching his shoulders as much.
“He’s in control, he’s big,” Peters said after the 4-2 win over the Predators.
Lack, like Ward, will have one year left on his contract. General manager Ron Francis will assess the goaltending after the season and decide if changes should be made. There’s the NHL expansion draft to consider.
For now, all Lack wants to do is stay in that bubble and play.
Hurricanes at Canadiens
When: 7:30 p.m., Thursday
Where: Bell Centre, Montreal