WINNIPEG – Cam Ward grinned as he described how he felt like a kid making some key saves in his Carolina Hurricanes’ 3-2 victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday.
Ward stole a pair of goals from Winnipeg centre Bryan Little in the first period, beginning with a pad save during a Jets’ two-man advantage and then displaying his quickness with a highlight-reel stick stop.
Little was about to fire the puck into a wide-open side of the net, but Ward whipped out his stick and the puck hit the paddle.
“It was a fun save,” Ward said with a chuckle after making 34 stops. “The initial shot was in a position where I knew I was going to have to kick out a bit of a rebound. Just out of pure desperation, I threw my stick out there and made a save that brings you back to the ol’ street hockey days as a kid.
“But Little, I think he got even with me scoring that second goal in the third period so it all evens out.”
Jets head coach Paul Maurice, who coached the Hurricanes for parts of 11 seasons, even tipped his hat to Ward.
“Cam Ward was the story of this hockey game,” Maurice said. “He was the best player on the ice.”
The Jets had mounted a 9-0 advantage in shots on goal on the way to a 13-6 gap at the end of a scoreless first period.
Ward then got some offensive help from his teammates, as brothers Eric and Jordan Staal and Riley Nash each scored within a span of two minutes and 53 seconds in the second.
Defenceman Andrej Sekera had a pair of assists for the Hurricanes (31-31-9) to give him 31 on the season to go with 11 goals.
Jets centre Jim Slater had scored his first goal of an injury-marred season 7:48 into the second, but Eric Staal got the roll going 37 seconds later with his 17th goal of the season.
Little scored his 21st goal of the season for Winnipeg (32-31-9) 1:27 into the third period.
Al Montoya stopped 29 shots while making his fourth straight start in net for Winnipeg since Ondrej Pavelec went out with a lower-body injury. He’s expected to return to action next week.
Montoya was pointing the finger at himself for the loss.
“We came out firing. Their goaltender played well,” Montoya said.
“I didn’t make the saves I needed to make and at the end of the day that cost us the game.”
Maurice said Montoya was wrong.
“If a guy is clearly the reason you’re in the hole, I’ll get him out of the net before that happens,” Maurice said.
“They get to this level thinking they should stop everything. He will feel that because he’s got a front-row seat to the way the guy at the other end is playing so it’s magnified.”
Carolina head coach Kirk Muller said Ward’s stellar play was inspiring for his teammates.
“The guys knew that he was giving a great effort and he was keeping us in there,” Muller said.
“They were like, ‘Hey, we’ve got to surround him with some better play here’ and, fortunately, we got timely goals. We played better the rest of the game and it was a nice team effort for everybody.”
Ward has battled through two injuries this season and was bumped to backup for Anton Khudobin, who was in net for Carolina’s 3-2 loss to Chicago Friday night.
Carolina returns home for a game Tuesday against the New York Islanders.
Winnipeg, which heads out on a five-game road trip beginning Monday in Dallas, remains at 73 points. Heading into the game, the Jets were six points back of the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference.
The Jets were coming off a 5-4 overtime win against Colorado on March 19. The loss to Carolina was Winnipeg’s 40th one-goal game this season and they are 18-13-9 in those outings.
Jordan Staal made it 2-1 when he went through Jets defenders and scored over Montoya’s blocker at 10:10 of the second while Slater was in the penalty box for tripping.
Maurice said Winnipeg’s first period was “about as good as we’re going to play,” but Staal’s power-play marker hurt.
“No doubt we got tight at 2-1,” he said. “You could feel it.”
The Jets, who were outshot 21-8 in the second, were working without defenceman Zach Bogosian, who left the game in the period with an upper-body injury that Maurice said isn’t too serious.
It appeared Stuart tied it up six minutes after Little’s goal, but the goal was waved off for goaltender interference as Jets defenceman Dustin Byfuglien fell on top of Ward in the crease and was lying on his right arm.
Winnipeg pulled Montoya with about 65 seconds left in the game and swarmed Ward, but the veteran held tough. The Jets outshot the Hurricanes 15-5 in the third.
Notes: Jordan Staal’s power-play goal was the first the Jets have allowed at home in five consecutive games. Winnipeg’s penalty kill was ranked fifth-best (84.8 per cent) in the NHL heading into the game…Both the Jets and Hurricanes are 2-3-0 in their last five games…The game was the second one of Carolina’s 18th set of back-to-back games this season. It plays two more. Only Jersey has more back-to-back sets this season with 22. The Hurricanes so far are 9-8-1 in the first game of their sets and 5-10-3 in the second game.