RALEIGH, N.C. — Hurricanes backup goalie Justin Peters did a good job of holding things down while Cam Ward (sidelined for 10 games) healed from a lower-body injury.
But nothing compares to Ward when he’s on, as was the case in Carolina’s 4-1 victory over Ottawa on Sunday night.
The Senators got out to a 1-0 lead just over a minute into the game, and not long after, Ottawa had a 3-on-2. Ward tallied the first save off his skate, lunging left to get it. And then on the rebound shot by Ottawa’s Colin Greening — milliseconds later — he lurched his entire body to the left and sprawled out just in time to get his stick on the rebound to deflect it.
“It was a bad rebound on my part. It’s tough to steer those rebounds when it goes right off your toe. I knew as soon as the shot came that I was going to be forced to kind of put it in a bad spot,” Ward said. “Fortunately, Greening didn’t get all of it and gave me a chance to dive over make the save. Luckily, I was able to get it. If that goes in, it’s a whole different hockey game going down 2-0 in the first period. Fortunately, I got that and … we played extremely well after that.”
Offense has been hard to come by for the Hurricanes this season, scoring only six times in their previous three games before Sunday.
Ward was modest about the impact of his mid-air save, but his head coach wasn’t.
“They scored early and then Cam makes that huge save,” coach Kirk Muller said. “I think the guys were like, ‘Hey, we’ve got to get going here.’ After that, I think we started to really pick it up and take off. So that save was probably the big turning point of the game, and then we just really kind of started cranking it up after that.”
Ward missed 10 games with a groin tear from Oct. 24-Nov. 17, and the Hurricanes lost their first five games without him. After a 4-2 loss to St. Louis, Ward was ready to come back against Boston on Nov. 18.
His return didn’t go as expected, as Ward allowed two goals in his first two minutes — but ended with 26 saves on 29 shots.
Peters got the start at Detroit instead of Ward on Nov. 21 in the Hurricanes’ next game (a loss), and then at Boston on Saturday afternoon, he had 35 saves on 38 shots and almost single-handedly kept his team in the game.
The Hurricanes got a point but lost in overtime, 3-2.
Carolina’s offensive weapons knew they had to do more, and Eric Staal did just that, finishing the game with three points (one goal and two assists) and quietly extending a six-game point streak.
“I was proud of the way Cam came back tonight with a big effort. I thought he was phenomenal yesterday (at Boston) and we were better in the third and helped us steal a point,” Staal said. “Then tonight, he was good again, which is big to bounce back and then us in front of him were better as well. So that was big for us to do that for him and get the win.”
Ward saved 35 of the 36 shots he faced, but he got support offensively.
Finally, Carolina’s offensive weapons that have been inconsistent this year — particularly Staal and Tuomo Ruutu — got going.
Ruutu went 15 games without a goal and has two in the last four games. Staal had three points, quietly extending a streak of three straight games with at least one point, scoring one goal and assisting on two others.
“That was (Staal’s) best game by far tonight,” Muller said. “He worked really hard, but he worked smartly. He used his wingers really well.
“Eric, he just played the game the right way tonight. He was the guy that really led us up front tonight, I thought. Everyone contributed, but he was the real leader.”
Staal — like a lot of other players on the roster who were supposed to score goals for this team — has been pressing a bit at times, trying to make something happen or force the issue offensively.
He and his teammates were able to get into a flow, barely 25 hours after an emotional loss at Boston, and just play. It was as if a weight had been lifted off of their shoulders, and things just looked much easier for the Hurricanes.
It’s been a rarity this season, but to see the Hurricanes’ offense and defense clicking at the same time was a sight to behold, and it was fun for the team, as well.
And they’ll need to carry it over against a tough stretch that starts with back-to-back games against the New Jersey Devils, second in the Metropolitan Division.
“It’s nice just playing the game, using your instincts, enjoying being out there and letting things kind of happen,” Staal said. “It feels like sometimes we’ve been chasing it at times and tonight was one of those nights where we were executing our plays and making some good looks and getting some bounces.
“Good effort. We’ve got to follow it up; big week against New Jersey and we’ll look forward to that.”