Backup goalie Ward has 'Canes contending

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Every goalie knows what it's like to be the
center of attention. Right or wrong, the spotlight always seems to
find the player between the pipes.

Cam Ward wouldn't have it any other way.

"If I didn't enjoy it, I wouldn't be playing the position," he
said Saturday. "It's something as a little kid, you enjoy the
pressure of the big games. You want to be that go-to guy. I thrive
on that."

The 22-year-old rookie, who spent the regular season as the
backup for the Carolina Hurricanes, is back in his element in the
Eastern Conference series against Montreal. Since replacing Martin
Gerber in the first period of Game 2, Ward has been mostly
spectacular to help the Hurricanes recover from an 0-2 hole.

He made 27 saves in his first career playoff start when the
series shifted to the Canadiens' home ice, and Carolina won 2-1 in
overtime. Ward was nearly as good Friday night, stopping 23 more
shots in a 3-2 victory that evened the best-of-seven series at two
games apiece.

And most everyone else in his locker room gives him the credit
heading into Game 5 on Sunday night.

"It's huge, he was the difference to get us back in," captain
Rod Brind'Amour said. "He's provided us with a lot of stability
and confidence, that we can just go out and play our game. You
can't speak enough for what he's done."

There was some evidence that Ward could do the job. Last season,
his first as a professional, he set franchise records at Lowell of
the AHL for victories (27), shutouts (6), save percentage (.937)
and goals-against (1.99).

He was nearly as good in the playoffs, recording five victories
and two shutouts for the Lock Monsters.

In his first NHL start earlier this season, Ward again
flourished in the spotlight, stopping Pittsburgh's Mario Lemieux,
Ziggy Palffy and Sidney Crosby in a shootout as Carolina won its
home opener over the Penguins.

"He hardly got excited," coach Peter Laviolette said. "I was
fired up, but he hardly was. He's got a very even-keeled
disposition. Good things happen -- same Cam Ward. Bad things happen
-- same Cam Ward."

So far, almost everything has been good.

"We had nothing to hold back," Ward said. "We were facing a
little bit of adversity, but once again, we're confident in the
guys we have in the dressing room."

One of those is Brind'Amour, a 17-year veteran who has four
goals in the past three games of the series. He had the winning
goal Friday night, a game after he forced overtime in by scoring in
the third period.

It all came after his best regular season in 10 years --
Brind'Amour tallied 31 goals and 39 assists in 78 games while
leading all NHL forwards in ice time.

"His goal in Game 3 to tie it exemplified everything that he
stands for," Laviolette said. "He never quit, he just kept
skating, kept working, kept pushing through the defense and finally
got a piece of the puck."

As befits his persona, Brind'Amour deflected any credit to the
rest of the team.

"It's not about one guy, it needs to be about every guy
chipping in, getting it done," he said. "We don't care which guy
is the hero, as long as it's in this room."

For Montreal, it might be more about who's not there. Captain
Saku Koivu was struck in the eye by an errant stick from Carolina's
Justin Williams in Game 3, and he was hospitalized.

The Canadiens have ruled out Koivu for Sunday night, and his
continued absence might affect his teammates' chemistry.

"I don't pick that up," coach and general manager Bob Gainey
said. "I don't think the players have time -- they come to the rink
to play and I didn't see anybody sort of looking and wondering if
someone was going to show up out of the blue."