NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 29: Cam Ward #30 of the Carolina Hurricanes sits in the net following a goal by David Schlemko #8 of the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on December 29, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Hurricanes 3-2. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Goalie nods: Ward to make 17th straight start for ‘Canes

The last time someone other than Cam Ward started for Carolina was on Dec. 3. Michael Leighton got the call that night, a 4-2 loss to the Rangers in New York.

Since then, Leighton’s played a grand total of 34 minutes.

Eddie Lack, Ward’s usual backup, hasn’t played at all as he’s currently sidelined with a concussion.

Jorge Alves, the club’s 37-year-old equipment manager and occasional practice goalie, received eight seconds of relief time in late December.

So yeah, Ward’s been a busy guy.

Fourth among all NHL netminders in games played and third in minutes, Ward will make his 17th consecutive start this evening when the ‘Canes host the Blue Jackets in Carolina.

It’s a heavy workload, no doubt, though ‘Canes head coach Bill Peters doesn’t seem too concerned about burning Ward out. At least not concerned outwardly.

“Our schedule has been fairly favorable,” Peters said prior to Sunday’s OT win over the Bruins, per Fox Sports. “There has been a couple of back-to-backs, but nothing ridiculous.”

Ward has been solid, if unspectacular, while carrying the load. He’s posted a 15-12-6 record with a .915 save percentage and 2.28 GAA, and is on pace for his most starts since getting 68 back in the ’11-12 campaign.

For the Blue Jackets, Anton Forsberg will get the start in his first game as the club’s new backup. Curtis McElhinney, the veteran who’s served as Sergei Bobrovsky‘s No. 2 for most of the year, was waived yesterday and claimed by Toronto today.

Elsewhere…

Steve Mason will look to snap a personal six-game losing streak as he gets the nod for Philly in Buffalo. The Sabres will counter with Anders Nilsson, who gets the start with Robin Lehner out with the flu.

Tuukka Rask will get a shot at following up Saturday’s shutout win over Florida, as the B’s head to St. Louis. The Blues are going with Jake Allen, who became a first-time father over the weekend.

Ryan Miller, coming off a 44-save win over Calgary on Friday, goes back in for Vancouver after Jacob Markstrom faced the Flames in the second of a back-to-back on Saturday. Miller will take on Pekka Rinne, who starts for the host Preds.

Corey Crawford will look to extend his winning streak to three, as Chicago hosts Detroit. Petr Mrazek is expected to start for the Wings, as he manned the No. 1’s crease at the morning skate.

— Two of the Western Conference’s busiest netminders go head-to-head in Edmonton, as Martin Jones and the Sharks take on Cam Talbot and the Oilers.

— After coming on in relief of Kari Lehtonen in last night’s win over L.A. Antti Niemi starts for Dallas. The host Ducks will go with John Gibson.

 

Talk about a Wild comeback for Minnesota

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The Minnesota Wild took back sole possession of the lead in the Central Division, thanks to a thrilling comeback win over the Pacific Division-leading Anaheim Ducks on Saturday.

Minnesota trailed 3-1 early in the second period. Jason Zucker closed the deficit in the middle period, before they took the lead for good thanks to a frenzy of three goals from Erik Haula, Ryan Suter and Zucker in 1:59 late in regulation for a 5-3 victory.

“When we came in in between the second and third, knowing we were only down a goal, and knowing our history, we didn’t think we were out of it,” said coach Bruce Boudreau, per the Pioneer Press.

And so the Wild remain one of the hottest teams in the league, leading Chicago by two points.

While it’s a comeback for them, the Ducks don’t quite see it the same way.

“It’s not what they did, to be honest. We self-imploded. Gave up too many opportunities, left our goalie out to dry,” said Cam Fowler.

Additional bad news for the Ducks, however, was that goalie John Gibson left the game in the second period with an upper-body injury, and didn’t return.

 

Bust a move: Capitals win includes unlikely OT hero and dad’s dancing in Dallas

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The usual suspects contributed for the Washington Capitals on Saturday. Down a pair of goals entering the third period, Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie helped ignite the comeback on the power play.

But then an unlikely hero emerged.

Jay Beagle scored his 10th goal of the season and the overtime winner to give Washington a 4-3 victory over the Dallas Stars. That aforementioned goal total matches his previous career high from two seasons ago.

He initially accomplished the feat over the course of 62 games. This time, he hits 10 goals in 46 games played.

Officials needed to review the play, although replays quickly showed the puck over the line from the Beagle shot in the slot.

The comeback win led to a memorable post-game celebration.

Disclaimer: Don’t try this at home.

The Capitals maintain their lead in the Metropolitan Division ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

This game versus the Stars included some feisty moments, particularly in the first period when tempers boiled over. Tom Wilson and Brett Ritchie dropped the gloves for a lengthy fight. Three seconds later, Daniel Winnik fought Antoine Roussel.

Ducks goalie Gibson leaves game versus Wild with upper-body injury

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 01:  Goaltender John Gibson #36 of the Anaheim Ducks in action during the preseason NHL game against Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on October 1, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) Anaheim goaltender John Gibson has left Saturday’s game against Minnesota with an upper-body injury.

A short-angle shot from Mikko Koivu appeared to hit Gibson in the upper chest with 5:39 to play in the first period. The goaltender immediately went down on one knee and was quickly attended to by a trainer. Gibson gingerly skated to the bench and went straight to the locker room.

Anaheim announced that Gibson is doubtful to return.

Gibson is 7-1-1 with two shutouts in his past nine starts. He was replaced by Jonathan Bernier.

Gibson stopped four of five shots he faced while making his fourth straight start.

Playoff hopes take a jolt: Coyotes crush Bishop and the Bolts

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning tends net against the New York Islanders during the second period at the Barclays Center on November 1, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Of the surprises in the NHL so far this season, the Tampa Bay Lightning has to be right up there on the list.

In 2015, they went to the Stanley Cup Final. The future had looked bright, but this signified the Bolts’ arrival into the top tier of teams in the league. Last season, they made it to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final and lost to the eventual champions from Pittsburgh. That was a playoff run that did not include Steven Stamkos until the deciding game of the East final.

This year? The Bolts are currently not in a playoff position. They’ve had issues defensively. They’ve had issues on offense. They’ve had issues with goaltending. They’ve dealt with injuries or illness to key players like Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, and other important members of their lineup.

Looking to gain ground in the playoff chase, the Bolts had what looked to be the perfect opponent to mend their troubles — at least for one game. On Saturday, Tampa Bay faced the Arizona Coyotes, losers of four in a row and sitting above only Colorado in the Western Conference standings.

The perfect remedy, right?

Wrong. So wrong.

The Bolts lost 5-3, mostly because of a disastrous opening two periods. Ben Bishop started and was pulled after 40 minutes, allowing five goals on 17 shots.

Down a goal after the first period, things went south for the Bolts in the middle period. The Coyotes — one of only two teams in the entire league still stuck under 100 goals-for entering this game — beat Bishop for three goals on just nine shots in the second.

The Bolts are dead last in the Atlantic Division, five points back of third-place Boston. They are four points back of Toronto for the final wild card spot, but there are seven teams ahead of Tampa Bay in that race.

There is still lots of time left in the season. But the Bolts had stressed the importance and urgency needed on this current six-game road trip, and they haven’t delivered.

A loss to the Coyotes would certainly seem like rock bottom.