His teammates gladly sent it his way.
“Whenever we lapsed a little, he was there,” center Kevyn Adams said. “You need those big saves, and we got them. He was unbelievable.”
The 22-year-old former backup stopped 30 shots to win his third straight start, Eric Staal and Matt Cullen had power-play goals and the Hurricanes beat the Montreal Canadiens 2-1 on Sunday night to take a 3-2 advantage in the Eastern Conference series.
In each of the first four games, the visiting team came out on top, with two going beyond regulation. Carolina became the first host to take a two-goal lead before the Canadiens rallied, and now the teams head back to Montreal for Game 6 on Tuesday night.
The Hurricanes were 31-8-2 at the RBC Center this season, trailing only Nashville (65 points) in the NHL for most points at home. Calgary tied Carolina with 64.
“We’re not there yet,” Carolina coach Peter Laviolette said. “There’s still a lot of work, and this is not going to be an easy task going up to Montreal. To be honest, we’re going to have to play better than we did tonight.”
Ward took over for usual starter Martin Gerber in the opening period of the second game, and even though the Hurricanes eventually lost in double overtime, he was solid enough to give them a chance. Ward had 50 saves in his first two playoff starts and Carolina won both to even the series. He was just as good in this one.
“I feel really comfortable,” Ward said. “I’m just enjoying the moment and having a blast doing it. It’s only fitting when you’re winning, because winning’s always fun.”
And for the first time, the Hurricanes were able to play from ahead.
They looked in charge from the opening faceoff, when Staal and Josef Vasicek both took shots in the first 12 seconds. Cristobal Huet turned away both, but he couldn’t do the same when Carolina went on the man-advantage 4:18 into the period.
Nine seconds later, Staal had the first goal, taking a backhand pass from Cory Stillman and sending a slap shot from the point past Huet.
“Stiller made a great play getting it through their fore-checker, who was kind of collapsing down on him,” Staal said. “I got a little more time and got a good look at the net.”
Cullen made it 2-0 in the second period when Montreal again was short-handed, after defenseman Andrei Markov sent the puck in the crowd. Another shot from the top got through Huet, with Cullen using a screen from Stillman for his third goal of the series.
“It comes down to the same things we’ve been talking about,” Canadiens right wing Alex Kovalev said. “We’re still, in this series, better 5-on-5. They’ve scored a lot of goals on the power play. If you take those away, it would be a different game.”
Kovalev then brought the Canadiens to 2-1 with a beautiful goal in the final minute of the second. Moments after Ward stopped him from right in front of the crease, Kovalev carried the puck into the zone, then held it smartly to force defenseman Niclas Wallin back on his heels.
Kovalev wound up and sent a shot through the legs of teammate Garth Murray, and Ward nearly gloved it before it found the net. That cut the margin in half, but Ward and the Hurricanes did enough down the stretch to hold on.
“I know the second half of the game, we started to make some head roads and we spent time in the offensive zone,” Montreal general manager and coach Bob Gainey said. “We were able to win pucks and control the play and control the puck in the offensive zone.”
Still, it wasn’t enough, thanks mostly to Ward, the 25th overall selection in the 2002 draft.
“He’s a No. 1 pick, he’s supposed to be a pretty good hockey player,” Laviolette said. “Experience always helps young players. He’s been real good for us.”
Carolina D Glen Wesley left the game in the second period after a shot glanced off his wrist. He stayed on the bench for a short time and iced the injury, then headed back in the game. … Montreal C Steve Begin saw his first action of the series after missing the first four games with a knee injury. … The standing-room-only crowd of 18,887 was even louder than normal, thanks to thousands of thunder sticks given away. It was so loud none of the players heard the whistle when Hurricanes D Bret Hedican was called for a penalty in the first period, and play continued for a few seconds.