Ward keeps up stel­lar play

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - BY JA­SON LIESER, STAFF RE­PORTER [email protected]­times.com | @Ja­sonLieser

Black­hawks goalie Cam Ward lives for this. He craves the play­offs in what might be his fi­nal NHL sea­son, and the Hawks’ bid for a wild-card spot is giv­ing him the thrill he wants.

Ward has been huge dur­ing the Hawks’ seven-game win­ning streak and was sturdy un­der duress in their 5-2 vic­tory Sun­day against the Red Wings. He saved 43 of 45 shots as the Hawks con­tin­ued their hottest run of the sea­son.

‘‘I love that we’re play­ing for some­thing, and guys have that be­lief in the locker room that, if we keep do­ing what we’re do­ing, we’re go­ing to give our­selves an op­por­tu­nity,’’ Ward said. ‘‘We want to just keep this thing rolling.’’

Ward stopped the Red Wings’ first 25 shots be­fore Christof­fer Ehn beat him with five min­utes left in the sec­ond pe­riod. Ehn cleaned up a turnover by Pa­trick Kane in­side the blue line and rock­eted a wrist shot few goalies would have stopped.

Like the Hawks, Ward has been at his best in the last few weeks. He has four of the seven vic­to­ries dur­ing their win­ning streak and has re­asserted him­self in the ro­ta­tion with rookie Collin Delia.

The Hawks called up 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.

Col­li­ton had a rhythm of go­ing with Delia for two or three games, then giv­ing him a breather with Ward. But Ward has started four of the last six.

Ward was yanked af­ter al­low­ing six goals in two pe­ri­ods Jan. 14 against the Dev­ils, but he has been on fire since. In his last four starts, he has a .940 save per­cent­age and a 2.25 goals-against av­er­age.

‘‘I’m see­ing the puck real well,’’ he said. ‘‘[On Sun­day], I had a few more re­bounds than I’d like, but I thought our guys com­peted and bat­tled in front of me to clear those.

‘‘As a group, we’re just play­ing much bet­ter. We’re not giv­ing up as much as we were the first half of the year. In turn, it gets us a bet­ter re­sult.’’

It has been tough for any goalie be­hind the Hawks’ de­fense this sea­son. They are sec­ond in the NHL in av­er­age shots on goal al­lowed at 35.3 and have been even worse dur­ing their win­ning streak at 37.7.

Col­li­ton wrote off part of the Red Wings’ 45-36 ad­van­tage in shots on goal as a re­sult of them fir­ing away and didn’t think the Hawks gave up an egre­gious num­ber of qual­ity scor­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties.

‘‘Ward made some re­ally good saves,’’ he said. ‘‘They threw a lot of pucks at the net, so some­times that in­flates the shot to­tals, but I do think that’s how you score, too. There’s pucks ly­ing around the crease, there’s bat­tles, so it was a good test for us in that way. Would’ve liked us to be tighter.’’

NAM Y. HUH/AP

Hawks goalie Cam Ward stopped 43 of the 45 shots he faced Sun­day against the Red Wings at the United Cen­ter.

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