TORONTO - You won't find Cam Ward's name among the NHL statistical leaders in any goaltending category, but the Carolina Hurricanes netminder is finishing strong in a season that started out so poorly.
While the Hurricanes (31-31-15) appeared to be effectively eliminated from the Eastern Conference playoff race by Christmas, they've since gone on a 20-11-9 run ? and Ward has been at the forefront of the team's turnaround.
His goals-against average has dropped to 2.77 and his save percentage has gone up to .914. It's almost certainly too late to save Carolina's season, but at least he's helped make it respectable.
"Our best players have been our best players in the second half, especially Cam Ward," said Hurricanes defenceman Jay Harrison. "He's been phenomenal for us. That makes it a lot easier to have success."
Ward recorded his fifth shutout of the 2011-12 campaign ? and second in 12 days ? as the Hurricanes blanked Toronto 3-0 Tuesday night, handing the Maple Leafs their 10th consecutive home loss. The Leafs managed just five shots in the first period as Carolina carried the play early and most of the action was in Toronto's end.
"It's a challenge for Cam to keep his focus and stay in the game when there?s not a lot of early action," said Carolina coach Kirk Muller, who replaced Paul Maurice when he was fired in late November.
"(Ward) played really well, he made the saves when we needed them, and I thought our 'D' did a good job of boxing out and keeping Toronto on the perimeter."
The victory was Ward's fourth in six games as his record improved to 28-23-12, putting the 28-year-old native of Saskatoon within reach of his fifth 30-win season since breaking into the NHL in 2005-06.
"I felt good, I felt sharp despite not seeing too many shots early," said Ward, who was quick to praise his teammates for dominating the opening period and giving Carolina to a 2-0 lead.
Ward, a first-round draft pick (25th overall) in 2002, has accomplished a couple of other noteworthy milestones recently, recording his 200th career NHL victory against St. Louis on March 15.
In that same game, he earned his 20th career shutout ??? tying Arturs Irbe for Carolina???s franchise record ??? as the Hurricanes beat the NHL???s first-place team 2-0.