Cam Ward #30 of the Carolina Hurricanes is introduced before a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning at PNC Arena on January 22, 2013 in Raleigh, North Carolina.
(January 21, 2013 - Source: Grant Halverson/Getty Images North America)

Does Carolina’s fate rest on Ward’s shoulders?

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When Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller was reflecting on the his team’s “Jekyll and Hyde” 2013 campaign, it wasn’t hard for him to determine the turning point.

“A lot of it had to do around the time [goaltender] Cam [Ward] got injured,” Muller told the NHL.com. “Up until then, we were leading our division.”

Of course, Ward wasn’t the only noteworthy Hurricanes player that suffered a significant injury last season, but shortly after he went down, Carolina went on a stretch where it won just two of 17 games.

Carolina has made a habit of leaning heavily on Ward, with him appearing in at least 68 games in four of the last five seasons going into the shortened 2013 campaign. The only exception was in 2009-10 and as you might have guessed, that was also due to significant injuries.

For better and worse, the Hurricanes’ fate has been tied to Ward since he led them to their first and only Stanley Cup championship as a rookie. There’s no question that Ward is still an important piece of the puzzle going into 2013-14, but the Hurricanes hope to have found a solid alternative in Anton Khudobin.

Khudobin has enjoyed years of success at the AHL level and he finally got his big break last season with the Boston Bruins. He took advantage of it, posting a 2.32 GAA and .920 save percentage in 14 games as Tuukka Rask’s understudy.

Of course, Khudobin still is thin on NHL experience, so Ward is still their safest bet. That’s especially true given that Ward should be healthy going into the season and highly motivated after being snubbed from Team Canada’s orientation camp.

Still, if they had Khudobin last season instead of Dan Ellis and Justin Peters, perhaps things would have turned out differently. Perhaps history won’t repeat itself if Ward goes down again.

Fights, hits and a blown kiss: Stars and Blues get nasty

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Things were getting out of hand between the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues on the scoreboard in an eventual 6-1 Blues win.

They were also getting a little raucous on the ice when it was clear that the Stars weren’t going to stage a comeback.

Jamie Benn was whistled for cross-checking Alex Pietrangelo, but it was Stephen Johns‘ hit from behind on Pietrangelo really revved up the violence.

Watch that hit and then the scrum that ensued in the video above, which included a scary display of an angry Ryan Reaves … who got creative at the end.

You may also want the kiss alone, so here it is:

Memo: rough stuff might not work so well against the Blues.

Read about that blowout here.

Blues bombard Stars, go up 2-1 in series

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Sometimes a final score is misleading. In the case of the St. Louis Blues’ 6-1 thrashing of the Dallas Stars, it might just be the start of the story.

Honestly, the most positive thing the Stars can say is “Well, at least it was just one game.”

It was one ugly game, however, and now the Blues hold a 2-1 series lead with a chance to really take control if they can win Game 4 at home.

The Blues dominated just about every category on Tuesday, firing more shots on goal, enjoying better special teams play and throwing more hits. They even blocked a higher number of shots, which often isn’t the case for the squad that carries play.

This leaves the Stars picking up the pieces, especially when it comes to their work in their own end.

Do you put greater blame on struggling goalies Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi or is this more about the Stars’ lax defensive coverage? The scary answer may be “Both,” and the Stars likely know that they need to find answers quickly.

On the bright side for Dallas, it is just one game … and the Blues were searching for answers of their own after Game 1.

We saw the Blues turn things around with these two straight wins, so now the Stars must show that they can gather themselves and play the attacking, out-score-your-mistakes style that got them here.

Granted, they may have to keep an eye out for supplemental discipline after some rough stuff toward the end of the game.

Predators smash Sharks to get back in series

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After a dispiriting 1-0 goal allowed by Pekka Rinne, things were looking bleak for the Nashville Predators for a moment there.

Nashville’s developed into a resilient group, however, and they stormed back for a commanding 4-1 win to shrink San Jose’s series advantage to 2-1.

The Predators saw some of their big names come up huge as the series shifted from San Jose to Nashville.

Pekka Rinne looked sharp following that first goal (and didn’t allow another). Their goals came from James Neal, Colin Wilson, Filip Forsberg and captain Shea Weber.

Weber’s tally was the game-winner, and it was downright thunderous:

Another promising sign: after a struggling to a 2-for-31 clip in previous playoff games, the Predators’ power play went 2-for-5 in Game 3.

Overall, the Predators really couldn’t ask for much more from this win, especially if Colton Sissons is indeed OK after a scary crash into the Sharks’ net.

Things could get really interesting if Nashville manages to “hold serve” with another home win on Thursday.

Stars’ goalie carousel goes around again: Lehtonen replaces Niemi

Dallas Stars goalie Antti Niemi (31) subs in for goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Dallas. The Stars won 6-5. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
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It’s pretty tough not to make jokes about the Dallas Stars spending $10.4 million on their goalies at times like these, even if Dallas’ defense should shoulder plenty of blame.

After Kari Lehtonen was pulled from a Game 2 loss, the St. Louis Blues chased Antti Niemi early in the second period of Game 3 after Niemi allowed three goals on 12 shots.

Troy Brouwer‘s 3-1 goal was enough for Lindy Ruff to give Niemi the hook:

Unfortunately for the Stars, Lehtonen got off to a slow start as well, allowing an immediate Vladimir Tarasenko goal.

The Blues are now 4-1 and the Stars are searching for answers … and probably wishing Tyler Seguin was around to help them out-score their problems.