Raising Canes: Ward helps Carolina stay hot, edge Penguins

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After years of frustrating people who expected them to make the leap, are the Carolina Hurricanes for real?

The jury’s still out on that question, but if nothing else, the Hurricanes are really hot, with Cam Ward remaining an unexpected catalyst for his long-time team.

By beating the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 (in regulation, which is very much worth noting in the cruelly competitive Metro), the Hurricanes are now on a four-game winning streak, with Ward allowing a mere five goals during that span.

Ward’s hot streak goes deeper than that, and so does the bigger-picture upward trend for Carolina. The 33-year-old is now on a six-game winning streak and hasn’t been credited with a loss since Nov. 2. Maybe Scott Darling will be the goalie of the future, but this present-day winning streak is all about the netminder of the team’s past.

You can stretch Carolina’s improvements back to earlier in December.

The Hurricanes rattled off four straight losses to begin a six-game road trip, with two “charity points” doing little to diffuse the frustration that was building for a team that’s been waiting on the sidelines of the postseason for far too long. They grabbed one shootout and one overtime win to close out that long road run, and they’ve been hot since then. After falling to 11-11-7 on Dec. 11, the Hurricanes have won seven of eight games (7-1-0), and now sit at 18-12-7.

While the Penguins have enjoyed the sort of higher-level success the Hurricanes can only dream of (or Ward can only wax nostalgic about), the two teams came into this game in very similar situations standings-wise, so this was significant. The Hurricanes now have more standings points in fewer games played (43 in 37 games played) than the Penguins (41 points in 39 games).

Nights like these may finally help Carolina get over the hump while possibly pushing the Penguins from repeat champs to … well, something closer to what the Hurricanes have been lately. With two games between these two teams coming up in January, Carolina has to hope these recent trends continue.

For a team that generated optimism in ways you’d expect (a roster full of young players, recent runs of dominant puck possession), it’s quite amusing that some of their success can be credited to the totally unexpected (a red-hot Cam Ward).

Then again, that’s kind of how hockey works sometimes, eh?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.