RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -Cam Ward lost about 20 pounds. What he hasn't lost lately are many games.
A winner of four straight starts, Carolina's slimmed-down goalie has yet to lose in regulation and has emerged as a big reason for the first-place Hurricanes' quick start this season.
Six months ago, the Hurricanes became just the third team in the modern era to drop from Stanley Cup champions to playoff no-shows. Now, with a revitalized, lighter Ward in net, they lead the Southeast Division and are out to prevent their postseason fate from being determined in the season's final weeks.
"You'd hate to look back at your season and wish in the early season that you had a better game here or there, or I could have gotten a win here or there," Ward said Monday. "Every game is huge. It's not just about the second half or the last week, trying to get into the playoffs. It's what you do throughout the entire season that really matters."
So far, all of Ward's numbers this season are better than last year's totals - including his weight.
After playing the past two seasons - and winning the 2006 Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP - at around 200 pounds, Ward said he most recently weighed in at 177.
Sleeker and quicker, Ward has allowed just nine goals on the 156 shots he has faced through five games, and his save percentage of .942 ranks fifth in the league. His goals-against average of 1.79 is more than a goal better than it was last season, and ranks second among goalies who have played at least four games.
He's one of three goalies with at least four wins so far, with his lone blemish a season-opening overtime loss to Montreal. Only Ottawa's Martin Gerber (192) has more saves than Ward's 147.
And, he was the backbone of the Hurricanes' three-game swing through eastern Canada last week, helping Carolina sweep Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal by a combined score of 15-5 - a performance that led the NHL to name him its No. 1 star of the week.
"I'm definitely seeing it on the ice," Ward said. "Not only do I feel quicker, but my stamina's much better during the games and during the week ... just like this past week."
Ward dedicated himself to dropping pounds shortly after last season ended with the Hurricanes four points out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
He spent the offseason in Raleigh adhering to a regimen crafted by a nutritionist and Carolina trainer Pete Friesen. He cut out snacks, stuck to a diet high in protein and low in carbohydrates, increased his cardiovascular workload and jogged throughout a muggy North Carolina summer.
"Anytime that you run outside in the humid air, you're bound to lose some weight," Ward said. "All those snacks that I got away with, (I) definitely stayed away from them. ... It's a matter of watching what I'm eating now and watching my portion control."
And after a down 2006-07 in which he finished 30-27 and allowed 2.93 goals per game, he's back to the level that made him one of the biggest stars of the Hurricanes' run to their first Cup in 2006.
"I think it's fair to say I've seen the highs, I've seen the lows and I'm a better player because of it," Ward said. "I was able to really shed the pounds and ultimately get myself into the best shape I've ever been in. I'm feeling better on the ice because of it, and it's paying dividends for me."