The increasing likelihood of missing the postseason isn't keeping the Carolina Hurricanes from putting in playoff-worthy effort.
But that's something they've done all season when playing the New York Islanders, against whom they'll try for their seventh straight victory while seeking a four-game sweep of the season series Tuesday night.
With a nine-point hole and four teams to pass, the Hurricanes (31-31-9) have started to discuss their remaining 11 games as the likely end to their season, though they haven't quit.
"It just speaks volumes about the guys in this room, the leadership in this room," center Riley Nash told the team's official website. "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."
Coach Kirk Muller thought Ward's play sparked the effort on the other end of the ice.
"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."
For Ward, the late season may be an audition for his future role with the club.
"Obviously I believe in myself and believe that I can play at an elite level," said Ward, who has battled injuries the last two seasons and is 9-11-5 with a 3.09 goals-against average this season.
"I've run into odd situations this year under different circumstances, and I have a goaltender (Anton 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."
Ward is 17-3-3 with a 2.41 GAA in his career against the Islanders while Khudobin has faced them once, a 3-2 road victory in which he made 38 saves in the last meeting Jan. 4.
Jordan Staal scored in that game and has five goals and three assists in his last seven against the Islanders.
While New York's Evgeni Nabokov lost that meeting and his previous two against Carolina, he helped the Islanders (27-35-9) to a 2-0 win over Columbus on Sunday with 41 saves.
"We were playing hard for our fans. We worked hard and we found a way to win," Nabokov said. "We knew they were playing a third game in four (days) and we wanted to make it tough for them."
Travis Hamonic and Cal Clutterbuck scored for the Islanders. Clutterbuck has three goals in five games after scoring seven in his first 60 this season, while Hamonic had gone 45 games between goals.
"Nice to chip in offensively, but I work to bring a defense presence first," Hamonic said. "I was just fortunate to get my feet moving and score."