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Southeast: Canes' Ward closing on franchise mark

by Mike G. Morreale
Perhaps lost in the hoopla of the disappointing first half by the Carolina Hurricanes this season is the fact Cam Ward suddenly is two wins shy of breaking the franchise record for wins by a goalie.

Arturs Irbe, who spent six seasons in Carolina, is the all-time leader with 130 victories in 309 games.

Ward, who has started 14 straight games, currently has 129 wins in 256 games spanning four-plus seasons. Since missing 13 games with a leg laceration, he has a 2.52 goals-against average and .928 save percentage in nine games. He made 31 saves Sunday in a 4-1 victory against Ottawa and 38 saves in a 4-2 win against Toronto on Tuesday.

Carolina coach Paul Maurice said shot totals sometimes can be misleading. In their victory against Toronto on Tuesday, the Hurricanes were outshot, 40-18.

"(Shot totals are misleading) when you have Cam in net," Maurice said. "We need that from him. Playing our fourth in six nights, with six regulars out of our lineup, we need Cam to do what he did tonight."

The six regulars Maurice were referring to are injured forwards Tuomo Ruutu (upper body), Sergei Samsonov (upper body), Scott Walker (shoulder surgery), Chad LaRose (lower body) and Erik Cole (upper body), and defenseman Joe Corvo (leg).

Carolina had a season-high three-game winning streak snapped Thursday in a 3-1 loss to the Red Wings, as Ward stopped 32 of 35 shots.

Just how valuable has Ward been since taking over as the team's starter at the beginning of the 2006-07 season? He's played a part in 115 of Carolina's 142 wins (80.9 percent).

Delayed win special for Smith -- The scene was surreal inside the Tampa Bay Lightning locker room Sunday after the visitors finally had finished the New Jersey Devils two days after the game originally was scheduled.

By now you've been well informed of what went down in Newark, N.J. last weekend, when the remaining 29:12 of a game -- which started Friday -- was completed Sunday after a lighting malfunction forced a two-day postponement.

One of the players in the obvious spotlight of this unusual predicament -- Lightning goalie Mike Smith -- was an immediate target of interest following the 4-2 victory that took a little over 48 hours to complete. Smith was in top form Friday when he turned aside all 20 shots, including 14 in the first period, over the initial 30:48 of play, staking the Lightning to a 3-0 lead before the blackout.

How would he bounce back two days later? He finished with 33 saves to notch his 10th win of the season and first of his career (1-0-2) against the Devils and goalie-of-record Martin Brodeur. The Lightning were held to a season-low 14 shots.

"I knew going in they really had nothing to lose," Smith said. "They had half the game to get three goals and so I just prepared like it was a fresh start and went out in the first period, which was really the second period, and tried to get into it early. Fortunately, I had to make some saves right off the bat and that always helps.

"The legs didn't feel 100 percent, but obviously it was a different situation for us all. I think we made the most of it, though, so, all in all, it turned out best for us."

Especially for Smith, who despite allowing two third-period goals, managed to make some key saves to insure the win. In the end, Smith's first career victory against Brodeur was a memorable one.

"I grew up watching Marty and I guess anytime you can beat a guy like that, it's special," Smith told "He's played for so long and achieved so much. But the win is the most important thing against any team right now. That's a good hockey team we beat, and we should be really happy."

Making his mark -- In just his seventh game as a Washington Capital, forward Jason Chimera became the first Capital in almost four years to notch a Gordie Howe hat trick -- a goal, an assist and a fight in the same game.

Chimera, traded to the Capitals on Dec. 28 in exchange for forward Chris Clark and defenseman Milan Jurcina, had a goal, an assist and a scrap (against Florida's Gregory Campbell) in the second period of Wednesday's come-from-behind 5-4 shootout win against the Panthers.

Forward Ben Clymer was the last Capital to notch the Howe hat trick -- against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Feb. 3, 2006.

"It's nice anytime you get a goal and an assist," Chimera said. "The guys are kind of ribbing me about the Gordie Howe hat trick. Anytime you can help your team, no matter what it is, it's nice to help out and get the ball rolling there."

Chimera, a seven-season veteran, couldn't remember whether he'd ever had a Howe hat trick before.

"I can't even remember," he said. "There's not too much fighting nowadays. I can't remember the last one I had. It's just nice to have one. I can't put a finger on when the last one I had was."

Kovy staying or going? -- The Atlanta-Journal Constitution reported Tuesday that Thrashers General Manager Don Waddell remains true to his original word that he's not actively seeking to trade pending unrestricted free-agent forward Ilya Kovalchuk.

"Our first priority still remains to sign him," Waddell told the newspaper. "That's clear. I probably didn't leave the door open enough at the beginning of the year because, obviously, I was hoping that this would be long done by now. We also have to protect the asset. He's an asset to our franchise. (A trade) still looms as an option, but it's not my first choice."

The NHL trade deadline is March 3. A trade freeze is in place during the Olympic break -- Feb. 13-28 -- leaving only three days for general managers to swing deals prior to the 3 p.m. (ET) deadline.

If Kovalchuk were to be traded or sign with another team at the end of the season, it would mark the fourth star player the franchise would have lost in six years, including Dany Heatley in 2005, Marc Savard in '06 and Marian Hossa in '08.

Waddell did say the organization and Kovalchuk's agent, Jay Grossman, have proposals in place. In all likelihood, Grossman probably is seeking a long-term, Alex Ovechkin-type payday, for his client. Ovechkin signed a 13-year contract extension worth $124 million with the Capitals on Jan. 10, 2008.

"We are at a difference of what the player should be paid," Waddell said. "It has nothing to do with Kovy being a great player, being our franchise player. It has everything to do that we do this and still have room that we can continue to grow this franchise."

Still, Waddell is very aware that's it's difficult to grow a franchise when franchise players keep departing every second or third season. One month ago, Waddell told a local reporter he didn't believe Kovalchuk would receive the maximum amount.

"No, I wouldn't think so," he said. "We have a lot of young guys here. If you want to play with all $500,000 players -- some teams gave out long-term deals and now they're in trouble because they have no flexibility to do anything."

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