BOSTON – Although his team is looking up at the rest of the Eastern Conference in the standings as February commences, Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward sees some reasons to be positive.
And it would be hard not to, as Ward's 47-save shutout to beat the defending Stanley Cup champions for the fourth time in four season meetings could brighten even the darkest midseason days.
Ward faced a season-high for shots and stopped every one of them to defeat the Boston Bruins, 3-0, and complete the first season-series sweep of Boston by Carolina/Hartford in franchise history Thursday night at the TD Garden.
Now, according to Ward, it's time for the 15th-place Hurricanes to prove they can duplicate the efforts they've produced against Boston and salvage some pride down the stretch.
"I think it's a credit to the guys. When we play like that, we're capable of beating very good teams," Ward said. "I mean it's no secret, they're once again Stanley Cup contenders, and to beat them four times is a huge compliment to our team. But we've got to play every team like they're the Boston Bruins because it seems like they bring out the best in us."
For the season, Ward went 4-0-0 with a 1.25 goals-against average and .965 save percentage against the Bruins. Ward had to be particularly sharp in the first period, when Boston outshot Carolina, 22-8. The Hurricanes then took control of the game with a 14-5 shots edge in the middle period.
"We talked about it after the first. We said they had a lot of shots in the first. But, we really more look at scoring chances," said Carolina coach Kirk Muller. "In the second period we only gave up one [chance]. That's not easy to do in this rink, on the road. So our guys I thought played really smart, played really well. Ward was really good in nets. Early in the period, early in the first, he really knocked it out. I thought we had a really good game from everybody and that's what we asked them to do: 60 minutes and no passengers. So it was a good team effort tonight."
Despite getting heavily outshot in the first period, Carolina went to the room for the first intermission up 1-0 on a goal by captain Eric Staal at 11:51.
"I felt really comfortable. I felt like I was seeing the puck well and for the most part I was really happy with my rebound control," said Ward. "And we had to get off to a good start because we know they play extremely hard, especially in their building. To walk away after the first period with a 1-0 lead, we felt good about that and improved our play in the second period."
In the second period, Tuomo Ruutu doubled the lead at 16:41 by scoring after a giveaway in front of the Boston net by defenseman Andrew Ference. The goal was Ruutu's team-leading 16th of the season.
The Bruins went to the second intermission without the lead for the ninth straight game. And for the second straight game, they were dominated in the second period, as Ottawa outshot them, 13-5, on Tuesday and scored twice during those 20 minutes.
"Not good enough. Same thing we've been talking about for the last however long," said Boston forward Shawn Thornton, whose team fell to 4-4-1 in its last nine. "Absolutely fell asleep in the second period – not good enough at all. I don't think we had everyone going again. Seems to be the same old story – we're not that good that we can come out and go through the motions and expect to be successful. When we were on top of our game, it's because everyone was working and that's not happening right now."
If a 2-0 lead wasn't enough of a cushion, the Hurricanes made sure Ward had more to work with just 3:13 into the last period. Brandon Sutter rifled home a one-timer from the top of the right circle for a 3-0 lead. Andreas Nodl had stolen a pass by Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask (28 saves) in the right-wing corner of Boston's zone.
Even with a three-goal lead, Ward had to maintain his composure to continue his dominance of Boston.
"You know you have to be sharp against them because they're so skilled and talented that you take a break mentally and it could be in the back of your net," said Ward. "So you've just got to be on your game for a full 60 minutes, and fortunately tonight I was feeling like I was in the zone."