by Keith Parsons | Associated Press
Every goalie knows what it’s like to be the center of attention. Right or wrong, the spotlight always seems to find the player between the pipes.
Cam Ward wouldn’t have it any other way.
"If I didn’t enjoy it, I wouldn’t be playing the position," he said Saturday. "It’s something as a little kid, you enjoy the pressure of the big games. You want to be that go-to guy. I thrive on that."
The 22-year-old rookie, who spent the regular season as the backup for the Carolina Hurricanes, is back in his element in the NHL Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against Montreal. Since replacing Martin Gerber in the first period of Game 2, Ward has been mostly spectacular to help the Hurricanes recover from an 0-2 hole.
He made 27 saves in his first career NHL playoff start when the series shifted to the Canadiens’ home ice, and Carolina won 2-1 in overtime. Ward was nearly as good Friday night, stopping 23 more shots in a 3-2 victory that evened the best-of-seven series at two games apiece.
And most everyone else in his locker room gives him the credit heading into Game 5 on Sunday night.
"It’s huge, he was the difference to get us back in," captain Rod Brind’Amour said. "He’s provided us with a lot of stability and confidence, that we can just go out and play our game. You can’t speak enough for what he’s done."
There was some evidence that Ward could do the job. Last season, his first as a professional, he set franchise records at Lowell of the AHL for victories (27), shutouts (6), and goals-against average (1.99) and led the league in save percentage (.937), earning AHL All-Rookie Team honors.
He was nearly as good in the playoffs, recording five victories and two shutouts for the Lock Monsters.
In his first NHL start earlier this season, Ward again flourished in the spotlight, stopping Pittsburgh’s Mario Lemieux, Ziggy Palffy and Sidney Crosby in a shootout as Carolina won its home opener over the Penguins.
"He hardly got excited," coach Peter Laviolette said. "I was fired up, but he hardly was. He’s got a very even-keeled disposition. Good things happen – same Cam Ward. Bad things happen – same Cam Ward."
So far, almost everything has been good.
"We had nothing to hold back," Ward said. "We were facing a little bit of adversity, but once again, we’re confident in the guys we have in the dressing room."