Ovechkin Can’t Ruin Cam Ward Party

On a clear Friday night in Raleigh, NC, 13,415 weather-worn fans gathered at the PNC Arena to cheer for the Carolina Hurricanes. They were hosting their Metropolitan Division rival Washington Capitals. Big, bad Alex Ovechkin was in town and it promised to be a night to remember.

It was also a special night for ‘Canes goalie Cam Ward, as the team and fans celebrated the milestone he achieved Tuesday night against the Philadelphia Flyers – his 500th career NHL game. Ward is now one of only four active goalies to have hit this milestone while playing with the same team. He joins Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres, Hendrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers, and Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins in this elite circle.

Cam Ward’s party

Prior to the game, the team honored Cam Ward and his longevity with the Carolina Hurricanes. The crowd was appreciative as well, cheering him with great sincerity. Regardless of what one may feel about his play of the past few season, Cam Ward did help bring a Stanley Cup to Raleigh in 2006. Canes fans will never forget his outstanding play:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u-nbTWxEPCY

Alex Ovechkin and company, fresh off Wednesday night’s 4-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, looked to ruin Ward’s party and add to their 76 points. The Hurricanes would have none of that, as they came out from the opening puck drop with great energy, and looked every bit the team that they have shown they can be when playing to their potential. This was a Hurricanes team that fans have longed to see all season, and seeing them only sparingly has given rise to much frustration.

The Hurricanes took the lead in the first period at 17:21 on a goal scored by Brett Bellemore, assisted by Victor Rask and Andrej Nestrasil.

It was Bellemore’s first goal of the season. He missed the morning skate due to an illness, but came back strong to get his first goal. Nestrasil made a perfect screen of Capitals goalie Braden Holtby and Carolina was up 1-0.

Skinner back?

Jeff Skinner made it 2-0 with a nice blast at 10:15 in the second period. Adding the second goal was huge for the momentum of the Hurricanes against a very good Capitals team.

Skinner has now scored in six of his last eight appearances. Is he back? Andrew Hirsh at SB Nation thinks he might be:

“Yeah, he still has it.”

Hirsh writes that Skinner’s concussion problems have been real, as have been the expectations that have been place on this still young star. If Jeff Skinner can stay healthy, the Hurricanes definitely will be a growing force to contend with in the coming years. Especially if Ron Francis is serious about rebuilding the team around what I have been calling the “young guns.”

Bellemore and Gordie

Brett Bellemore was inclined to register a Gordie Howe hat trick, missing it by only as assist. He got into a fight in the second period with the Capitals Tom Wilson. It did not turn out well for Brett. Brett got hammered pretty bad.

Tom Wilson garnered 82% of the vote at hockeyfights.com as the fight’s winner. And while Wilson was obviously trying to get his team some motivation, it didn’t work, as the Hurricanes continued to frustrate the Capitals at every turn. The ‘Canes carried their 2-0 lead into the locker room at the end of the second period.

Khudobin ices Cam’s cake

The real story of the game was Anton Khudobin’s play. He looked determined to get the victory for his buddy Cam Ward. He played one of the best games he has ever recorded:

Time after time Anton Khudobin closed the door on the Capitals, and in the end he got the shutout, his first of the season and fourth of his career. I couldn’t help but think that with every one of his 28 saves Anton was saying, “This is for you Cam.” Coach Bill Peters seemed to agree:

“I thought they did a good job honoring Cam, and he deserved it. Then, Dobby played real well.”

The game ended with Alex Ovechkin being his usual self, trying to slash and hook Nathan Gerbe as he broke to the Capitals’ empty net.

Gerbe, in my opinion, the hardest working guy in hockey, was not to be denied. I’ve said before that a team full of guys with Nathan Gerbe’s heart and work ethic would be consistent Stanley Cup contenders.

Sorry Alex

The game ended 3-0, and the Cam Ward 500th game celebration couldn’t have gone any better. Alex Ovechkin himself couldn’t come into Raleigh and spoil Cam’s night:

This Carolina Hurricanes team showed what they can do when they are hitting on all cylinders. Will they do it Saturday night against the New York Islanders? Let’s hope Cam Ward’s 501st game goes as well as the celebration of his 500th.