Hurricanes' Ward wins Conn Smythe trophy as series MVP
By AARON BEAR

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Nothing ever got to Cam Ward, whether it was denying shots from oncoming skaters or the way the rookie deflected praise for his mature-beyond-his years play in net for the Carolina Hurricanes.

 

It wasn't a surprise then that he didn't get too excited about winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player of the postseason as the Hurricanes won their first Stanley Cup.

 "I truly feel that you could have given it to anybody on this hockey team," he said after helping Carolina beat the Edmonton Oilers 3-1 in Game 7 of the finals on Monday night. "And to tell you the truth, it's completely irrelevant. The Cup, that's the trophy that matters the most."

Ward started the playoffs as a backup full of potential, but finished it at the center of the Hurricanes' celebration. The 22-year-old finished with 22 saves and the type of unflappable performance that the Hurricanes have come to expect.

He gloved wristers and kick-saved one-timers. He moved from post to post in a way that looked effortless.

When the playoffs started, Ward was an up-and-down performer who had a 3.68 goals-against average in 28 regular-season games backing up Martin Gerber. But when Gerber faltered in Carolina's pair of home losses to Montreal to open the playoffs in April, Ward got his chance.

After this postseason run, he probably won't relinquish that spot anytime soon. He ended up with more wins in the playoffs (15) than in the regular season (14). He finished the postseason with a 2.14 GAA, including shutouts against New Jersey in the second round and Edmonton in Game 2 of the finals.

 

He became the third rookie goalie in the last 35 years to lead his team to the NHL title, joining Ken Dryden in 1971 and Patrick Roy in '86, both with the Montreal Canadiens. He is the fourth rookie to capture the Conn Smythe, joining Dryden, Roy and Philadelphia goalie Ron Hextall in 1987.

"To handle it and respond the way he did and never crack under the pressure says a lot about Cam," Carolina coach Peter Laviolette said. "You need goaltending in order to win hockey games. We got it tonight. We have gotten it through the playoffs."

His biggest save Monday came with less than 4 minutes left. Ward stopped Raffi Torres' shot from the left side but struggled to control the rebound with Fernando Pisani skating in. But Ward managed to get his left skate on the puck just as Pisani's stick arrived, making the stop to preserve a 2-1 lead.

"We played our best period (in the third) and we had some chances," Edmonton goalie Jussi Markkanen said, "and Cam Ward was there for them to make those couple saves that made the difference in the third period."

Ward's finals run started with a 34-save performance in Game 1, including a pair of jaw-dropping stops on close-in shots by Shawn Horcoff in the third period. He followed that with 25 saves in a 5-0 win in Game 2, then a pair of strong road performances in the arena where he grew up cheering on the Oilers from Section 102.

He rebounded from giving up the breakaway short-handed score to Pisani in overtime of Game 5, which denied the Hurricanes the chance to clinch the Cup, and a 4-0 loss in Game 6 in which he got little help from his defense to close out the series.

"It's unbelievable," Ward said. "Your childhood dream of winning the Stanley Cup has finally come true and all that work you put forth through minor hockey and junior, it's all paid off from today."

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