Ward declared himself ready to go following his team's practice on Wednesday and will be in net for the first time in a month -- or 14 games -- when the Hurricanes face the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center.
To Ward, it almost feels like a fresh start to a new season.
"It was a long four weeks for me," Ward said. "This is the longest I've ever been out because of an injury so I didn't know what hurt more, my knee or the fact I had to be forced to the sidelines and watch hockey games on TV. It's very difficult as a goalie to be pushed to the sidelines and watch the games."
Ward, activated Tuesday from the long-term injured reserve list, was forced from a Nov. 7 game against the Columbus Blue Jackets when he was cut near the left knee by the skate of Rick Nash in the first period. He was finally able to resume light skating on his own Nov. 29 before rejoining his team for practice four days later.
"It'll probably be a little nerve-racking for him or maybe take him a period-and-a-half to get into it," Carolina wing Ray Whitney told NHL.com. "But whenever he's in net, I think our team's comfort level is a lot better and our defensive mistakes aren't magnified when you have a guy like that back there to bail you out every now and again."
Particularly now since the Hurricanes are riding a two-game winning streak following back-to-back victories over Vancouver and Pittsburgh. The club is hoping for a third straight triumph for the first time this season against the surging Devils, who have won eight of their last nine at home.
"As a team we know what we're getting ourselves into when we play the New Jersey Devils," Ward said. "They're a very good hockey team and have a very stingy defense with one of the best goalies in the world in (Martin) Brodeur so you expect it to be a low-scoring affair. We just have to take care of what we need to do and make sure we get off to a good start."
On Monday, the 'Canes placed goaltender Michael Leighton on waivers. Veteran goalie Manny Legace, who signed as a free agent on Nov. 9 -- two days after Ward's injury -- will remain the team's backup. All three goalies were at practice on Wednesday.
Ward missed three games in March 2007 after a leg laceration but this injury was certainly more substantial.
"Typically, goalies wear knee side guards and I was probably one of only a handful that never did," Ward said. "I always took the risk of something like that (laceration) happening and, now, having gone through these two accidents, don't want it to ever happen again so I've made some changes to my equipment so that I won't jeopardize that happening again.
"I don't like it, but I got to think about the future," Ward said. "I avoided the tendons by a matter of centimeters and that could have been a career-ending or season-ending injury, so I've got to think about the team and my future."
Prior to the injury, Ward started 15 of his team's 16 games and had a record of 2-9-3 with a 2.97 goals-against average and .899 save percentage. Certainly numbers he'd wish to improve upon and, at the same time, prove to Team Canada general manager Steve Yzerman that he is still a qualified candidate to join the club in Vancouver in February.
"I'm not going to give up, that's for sure," Ward said. "This (injury) didn't help me at all with missing a month, but I've got to play with the belief that I still have a chance and I know that they'll be watching. But, first and foremost, it's about getting our team on the right track. We're coming off two wins and hopefully we can continue."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com