- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Cam Ward won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in leading the Carolina Hurricanes to the 2006 Stanley Cup. Along with captain Eric Staal, the goaltender has been at the center of the franchise ever since, amid the ups and downs of talent in front of him.

So when Ward went down with a knee injury March 3, it looked like trouble. Neither backup Dan Ellis nor minor league starter Justin Peters was considered a bonafide replacement, but the Hurricanes made it clear they would ride with them.

So far, it has proven successful. Carolina is 3-1 since Ward got hurt and has remained in first place in the Southeast Division, backstopped by solid performances from Peters and Ellis.

“You’re not going to fill Cam’s void. Obviously he’s a top goalie in this league,” said Peters, who shut out the Washington Capitals on Tuesday night. “The only way we can try and fill it is a group effort from everyone in this room, and that’s been our mindset the whole time. Obviously there’s not going to be one guy that can fill that void. We realize how good of a goalie Cam is.”

Players credit second-year coach Kirk Muller for making it an easy transition.

“It’s been pretty smooth,” Staal said. “We got pretty good confidence in all our goalies. I mean obviously we know Cam’s one of those game-changer type-players, but [sometimes] you need to rally around as a group. And I think Kirk’s implemented a type of game where it takes everybody on the ice, five guys, to be tight and be aggressive.”

Even last season when Carolina’s talent might not have been elite, Muller’s bunch built a reputation as a hard-working team. Add Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin to the bunch, and there’s enough firepower to outscore teams as long as the goaltending doesn’t implode.

The Hurricanes have scored 16 goals in four games since Ward sprained the medical collateral ligament in his left knee. That’s one way to make life easier on Peters and Ellis.

“They just need to go in there and give us a chance to win, and I think they’ve done that so far,” Eric Staal said. “So we want that to continue.”

Tuesday against the Caps, Peters did more than just give Carolina a chance. He stopped 26 shots, including several scoring chances from point-blank range.

“Petey came up with a huge game tonight, and that’s a big test coming in on a really important divisional game that he can walk in on the road and get a shutout,” Muller said. “He’s worked hard, and it’s great to see for him.”

Ellis is 1-0 since Ward’s injury, but Peters could be the guy the Hurricanes roll with until Ward can return. The 26-year-old who has spent the bulk of the past four-plus seasons in the American Hockey League has found groove, going 2-1 with a 2.35 goals-against average and .926 save percentage.

“He’s been here before, so he knows the guys,” Muller said. “It’s familiar territory in a way for him. So the guys, both him and Ellis, we’re going to need both of them. They both are two goalies that the guys like playing for and play hard for. That’s a huge part of it right there.”

Peters won’t be Ward, who could go to Sochi next year as part of Canada’s Olympic team. But for now, every start is another audition to show he belongs in the NHL and that the Hurricanes can thrive in Ward’s absence.

“Every opportunity you get, you want to try and create certainty with a coaching staff,” Peters said. “Obviously with myself, obviously I’m still learning every opportunity I get out there and I’m just trying to create confidence in myself, create confidence in my team and they believe in me. When they have confidence in you, that goes a long way.”

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