Blackhawks goalie Cam Ward lives for this. He longs for the playoffs in what could be his last season in the NHL, and the Hawks' nomination for a wild card position is giving him the excitement he desires.
Ward has been huge during the Hawks' seven-game winning streak and remained adamant in his 5-2 victory against the Red Wings on Sunday. He saved 43 of 45 shots while the Hawks continued their hottest race of the season.
"I love that we're playing for something, and men believe in the locker room that, if we keep doing what we're doing, we'll give ourselves a chance," Ward said. "We want to just keep this going."
Ward stopped the first 25 shots of the Red Wings before Christoffer Ehn beat him five minutes before the end of the second period. Ehn cleaned a rotation of Patrick Kane inside the blue line and fired a wrist shot that few archers would have stopped.
Cam Ward stopped 43 of 45 shots against the Red Wings. | Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images
Like the Hawks, Ward has been at his best in recent weeks. He has four of the seven victories during his winning streak and has reaffirmed himself in the rotation with rookie Collin Delia.
The Hawks called Delia when Corey Crawford suffered a concussion in December, and coach Jeremy Colliton started him nine times in 13 games once he made his season debut.
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Colliton had the rhythm of going with Delia for two or three games, and then giving him a break with Ward. But Ward has started four of the last six.
Ward was knocked down after allowing six goals in two periods on January 14 against the Demons, but has been on fire ever since. In his last four starts, he has a saving percentage of .940 and an average of 2.25 goals against.
"I'm seeing the album really well," he said. "[On Sunday]I had some more rebounds than I would like, but I thought our guys competed and fought in front of me to eliminate them.
"As a group, we're playing much better, we did not give up as much as we were in the first half of the year, and it gives us a better result."
It has been difficult for any goalkeeper behind the Hawks' defense this season. They are second in the NHL in average goal shots allowed in 35.3 and have been even worse during their winning streak in 37.7.
Colliton canceled part of the Red Wings' 45-36 lead on shots on goal as a result of the shooting and did not believe the Hawks would abandon a lot of quality scoring opportunities.
"Ward made some really good saves," he said. "They released a lot of records on the net, so sometimes that inflates the totals of shots, but I think that's the way you win, too." There are pucks around the fold, there are battles, so it was a good test for us that way. We would have liked to be more strict. "