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Ward makes 34 saves to lead Hurricanes past Jets

by Patrick Williams

WINNIPEG -- The Carolina Hurricanes used goaltender Cam Ward's first-period work and three goals in a span of 2:53 in the second period to beat the Winnipeg Jets 3-2 on Saturday.

Ward started after sitting the previous three games and stopped 34 shots. Injuries have caused Ward to miss 21 games this season, and the 30-year-old goalie has seen free-agent acquisition Anton Khudobin challenge him for the starting job, but he rallied to earn his first road win since a 4-3 victory against the New Jersey Devils on Nov. 27.

"[Ward] gave us a chance to win the hockey game," Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said. "They gave it to us in the first period, and he kept us in there, and we bounced back after that."

The Hurricanes (31-31-9) concluded their road trip at 2-1-0. The Jets (32-31-9) remain stalled six points behind the Phoenix Coyotes for the Western Conference's second wild-card spot into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Jets open a five-game road trip Monday against the Dallas Stars.

"We have to have a good road trip," Jets center Bryan Little said. "I think that after this trip, we'll have a good idea of what is going to happen with our season."

Hurricanes captain Eric Staal scored and Jordan Staal added a power-play goal for the Hurricanes, who are 29th in the NHL with the man advantage at 13.0 percent. Riley Nash also scored for Carolina.

Jets center Jim Slater broke a 39-game goal-scoring drought when he beat Ward in the second period. It was his first goal since Jan. 22, 2013. Little drew the Jets within a goal when he scored in the third period.

With goaltender Ondrej Pavelec out for the fourth consecutive game with a lower-body injury, Al Montoya started for the Jets, making 29 saves in the loss.

The Jets' home-ice woes resumed after a two-game winning streak this week. Since Feb. 27, the Jets are 3-4-2 at home. The injury-ravaged Jets had defenseman Zach Bogosian, left wing Dustin Byfuglien and Slater back in the lineup, but Bogosian left the game with an upper-body injury in the second period and did not return. Bogosian's injury is not expected to be serious, according to Jets coach Paul Maurice.

In the opening 10 minutes, Ward helped Carolina fend off a 42-second 5-on-3 shorthanded situation and Winnipeg's 9-0 advantage in shots on goal. Included in Ward's early work was a sprawling save on Little's in-close scoring chance, a stop on Devin Setoguchi and another diving stop on Eric O'Dell's wraparound bid.

"[Winnipeg] came out strong in the first 10 minutes, and it was important to make saves to settle our guys down," Ward said.

After Ward stopped the Jets' first-period assault, Winnipeg's persistence paid off when Slater tipped Mark Stuart's left-point shot through Ward's pads at 7:48.

But then the Hurricanes began their three-goal outburst in a second period in which they outshot the Jets 21-8.

Eric Staal tied it with his 17th goal 37 seconds after Slater had opened the scoring, firing a rebound from the slot into the empty Winnipeg net after Montoya misplayed the puck. With the Hurricanes on a power play, defenseman Andrej Sekera, who had two assists, sent a long outlet pass to Jordan Staal at the far blue line. Staal moved in on Montoya and beat the goaltender high at 10:10 for his 15th goal.

Winnipeg did not react well to Carolina's second goal, according to Little.

"It was just one of those things where they got the lead, and the whole bench kind of gasped because of the importance of the game," Little said. "You get behind now, and it kind of feels like the end of the world."

Maurice saw the same reaction from his bench.

"No doubt, we got tight at 2-1," Maurice said. "You could feel it."

The game worsened for Winnipeg when Nash put Carolina up 3-1 after jabbing in his ninth goal off a scramble in front of Montoya at 11:18.

"There are just five, seven, eight minutes there in the second period that the game got away from me, and I'm not happy," Montoya said.

Little moved the Jets to within a goal 1:27 into the third period, poking Michael Frolik's centering pass under Ward for his 21st goal. However, Ward held off the Jets after Little's goal and stopped 14 of 15 third-period shots to lock down the win.

"Cam Ward was the story of this hockey game," said Maurice, who coached Ward for parts of four seasons with Carolina. "He was the best player on the ice."

An assortment of injuries have limited Ward, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2006 after guiding the Hurricanes to a Stanley Cup title, to 43 games in the past two seasons. Ward is 9-11-5 with a 3.09 goals-against average and a .896 save percentage this season.

"A lot of guys are happy for [Ward]," Muller said. "It's been a tough year, with injuries and that."

If Ward can rediscover his earlier form, he and Khudobin could provide the Hurricanes with a solid tandem.

"[Ward is] an elite goalie," Muller said. "There are only certain goalies that are able to take a team to the Stanley Cup and win it, and he has done that. But I think the biggest thing is that he is getting healthy again. These type of things as athletes when you go through these battles, you get stronger and learn from it."

Ward also believes that he can rebound from his struggles.

"Obviously I believe in myself and believe that I can play at an elite level," Ward said. "I've run into odd situations this year under different circumstances, and I have a goaltender [in Khudobin] beside me that is playing extremely well and has made it really difficult to get back into the net. That's a compliment to him, but at the same time I still want to compete and play and I still feel like I have a lot of game left in me."

The Hurricanes are out of playoff contention, but they would like to be a difficult opponent for contenders down the stretch.

"It just speaks volumes about the guys in this room, the leadership in this room," Nash said. "There is no give-up. We might be in a dire situation, but we owe it to our fans, we owe it to our organization to work our butts off each and every night, and I think we're doing that."

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