It's becoming routine, actually, to see the 25-year-old Ward leading his team to victory in a seventh and deciding game -- in this case, a Game 7 against the top-seeded Boston Bruins in their building.
If there was pressure, you'd never know it by looking at Ward, who calmly made 34 saves in front of 17,565 screaming fans to as the Hurricanes beat the Bruins 3-2 in overtime to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2006. They'll play at Pittsburgh in the series opener Monday night.
Ward, now 4-0 with a 2.00 goals-against average in Game 7s in his career, stopped 10 shots in the third period and eight more in overtime. The most impressive save might have come at the expense of Boston's David Krejci with 14:13 remaining in OT. After gaining prime position in the slot, Krejci released a snap shot that Ward turned away with his left pad.
"There's nothing really to tell regarding that save," Ward told NHL.com. "To tell you the truth, I wasn't really thinking and that's good. When I'm not thinking, that's when I'm playing my best. Krejci had a good look and had some pressure and I knew he would take the shot so I was at the top of crease to take away the net. In overtime, you have to come up with those big saves to give your team a chance to win and I was happy to make them."
Carolina forward Ray Whitney shook his head and grinned when asked to assess Ward's Game 7 performance.
"It was the same type of performance he always gives in a Game 7 since I've been playing with him," Whitney said. "He seemed to get just enough work (on Thursday). There are games when he takes fewer shots, but he's still in control of the puck and he was in complete control. That save on Krejci was unbelievable; he really played the angle well and it was huge for us."
Ward is trying to lead the Hurricanes to their second Stanley Cup in four seasons. He raised the Cup his rookie season in 2005-06 when he was also named the Conn Smythe Trophy recipient. It's apparent the word "pressure" isn't a part of his vocabulary.
"I'm just in the moment," said Ward, who's now won all six playoff series he's been a part of. "I think, in my position, you can't let the pressure get to you. You just have to play with confidence. I get those goose bumps when we're out there and we played in a great atmosphere in Boston so it was pretty easy to get motivated. It's my job to shut the door but, obviously, you can't do it without your teammates and the guys in front of me played great."
Carolina coach Paul Maurice said both goalies, including Boston's Tim Thomas (34 saves in Game 7), played extremely well throughout the series.
"There were some good looks for both teams and some spectacular saves," Maurice said. "It's unusual to see a series with so many four-goal games where the goaltending was absolutely outstanding with defensive-minded teams. It's surprising that both goalies had to play as well as they did to get it to a Game 7."
When informed of his unblemished mark in Game 7s, Ward smiled and admitted its all about having fun.
"I enjoy it, and I think you have to have the right mindset," he said. "I'm going out there and having some fun and I know when I'm having fun I'm playing my best. I'm lucky to have this success in the playoffs and I hope it continues. We know we have a very strong team; one that could potentially go the distance. But we're going to take it one game at a time and, now, here we are, third round."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.