Facing a virtual must-win situation to keep his team alive, Ward made 42 saves to lead the Hurricanes to a 3-0 victory against the Detroit Red Wings.
"We refused to give up," Ward said.
Jeff Skinner and Derek Joslin scored in the second period and Erik Cole added a goal in the third for the Hurricanes, who beat the Red Wings for the first time since 2006 -- the year they won the Stanley Cup. Carolina has won seven of nine to move to 89 points and remain in the hunt for just its second postseason berth since that championship season.
"I think we're really coming into our own, playing good, five-man hockey," said Eric Staal, who assisted on all three goals. "It's the time of year when you've got to have your game going to get into the playoffs. We like to think we're right there, and hopefully we can follow it up ... and be right where we want to be."
They'll need some help to get there, with the clearest path requiring them to win both of their final two games while the New York Rangers, eighth with 91 points, lose one of their last two.
"It's a lot of emotions when you get down to this time of year," Skinner said. "It's exciting to come to the rink and have a chance. That's all you can ask for."
Zetterberg, who collided with Carolina defenseman Bryan Allen midway through the first period, has a team-best 80 points and entered with 11 points in his previous 10 games. Coach Mike Babcock said Zetterberg would be evaluated after the team returns to Detroit. He assumes Zetterberg probably won't play through this weekend, but "he'll get checked out by our people, and we'll go from there."
As strong as Ward was in net, Detroit certainly could have used him.
Ward entered 0-3-0 in his career against Red Wings with a goals-against average of 3.35, but he was impenetrable in his fourth shutout of the season and 16th of his career. His most impressive sequence might've come when he made two saves -- with defenseman Tim Gleason blocking another shot - during an early rapid-fire pileup in front of the net.
"A couple good point-blank saves on a few of us that turned the game and kept the game tight and in their favor," Detroit center Mike Modano said.
One of Carolina's newest defensemen gave Ward all the offensive support he'd need.
Joslin's first goal as a Hurricane put them up roughly 4 minutes into the second when, after Cory Stillman dug the puck out of the boards, he found Joslin at the point and the rookie defenseman uncorked a low slap shot that beat Howard to his stick side.
That brought a sigh of relief for the Hurricanes, who missed on their first two chances with the man advantage and were 0-for-6 on the power play three nights earlier in a 2-1 overtime loss to Buffalo that dealt a serious blow to their playoff chances.
The highlight of the night came on Skinner's goal, his fourth in five games and 30th of his rookie season. Staal unloaded a slap shot that bounced off Howard's pads, and Skinner scooped up the puck near the right post, wrapped it around and tucked it between the left post and Howard's glove to make it 2-0 with 1:13 left in the second.
"The (goal) at the end of the second killed us, kind of put a knife in us," Babcock said.
Skinner became just the eighth 18-year-old in NHL history to reach 30 goals.
"No, I guess not at the beginning of the season," Skinner said when asked whether he could have predicted having so much first-year success. "I've been fortunate to play in some great situations with some great linemates."
Cole then delivered the dagger just eight seconds after Carolina killed a four-minute high-sticking penalty on Drayson Bowman, taking a one-time feed from Staal and blasting it past Howard to make it a three-goal game with 14:16 left.
"It took the wind out of you when you don't take (advantage of) an opportunity like that, and they come back and score on the same rush, same shift," Modano said. "It was a tough little sequence there. ... That could have definitely changed the game around."
The 'Canes have a day off before visiting Atlanta on Friday -- one night after they hope the Thrashers can help them with a victory in New York.
"We like to think we're right there, and hopefully we can follow it up here in the last few games and then be where we want to be," Staal said.
Material from wire services and team media was used in this report
|Justin Abdelkader Tripping against Eric Staal|
|Eric Staal Slashing against Brian Rafalski|
|Jonathan Ericsson Tripping against Erik Cole|
|Justin Abdelkader Holding against Jeff Skinner|
|Drayson Bowman Hi stick - double minor against Daniel Cleary|
|Mike Modano Hi-sticking against Bryan Allen|