Cam Ward, the 22-year-old Saskatoon Native, started the 2006 Stanley Cup Playoffs as a backup goalie with potential. Just months later, the rookie goaltender was the backbone of the team raising the Stanley Cup in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Ward was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy, given to the most valuable player of the post-season, after they took down the Edmonton Oilers 3-1 in a hectic game 7. This was the ending of the story, but how did Cam Ward go from backup goalie to Stanley Cup MVP? Let’s take a look at the main reason #30 was inducted into the Carolina Hurricanes Hockey Hall of Fame, the 2006 Stanley Cup run.
In the 2005-2006 NHL regular season, the Carolina Hurricanes had 52 wins, 22 losses, and 8 overtime losses. This superb record put them atop the Southeast division and a favorite to make a run at the Stanley Cup. One of the main reasons for such a successful season was starting goaltender Martin Gerber who had a franchise record of 38 regular-season wins. Backup goalie Cam Ward was up and down throughout the regular season with a .882 save percentage and allowing 3.68 average goals against through 28 games. Gerber, on the other hand, was a reliable number-one goalie with a save percentage of .906 and 2.78 average goals against through 60 games. The Hurricanes ended up drawing the Montreal Canadiens in round 1 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Playoffs and if you thought Ward was just gonna have the best seat in the house the entire playoffs, then boy were you mistaken.
When things got tough for the Hurricanes in round 1 of the playoffs, they turned to the rookie for a spark. After a 6-1 loss in game 1 and being down big in game 2 to the Montreal Canadiens, Gerber came out in the middle of game 2 and the rookie went in between the pipes. Cam Ward put up multiple highlight-reel saves in relief of Gerber and gave the team the push they needed to get back in the game.
Carolina would end up losing game two in overtime and head to Montreal, being down 0-2 in the best of 7 series. Head Coach of the Hurricanes Peter Laviolette had a tough decision to make on which goaltender to start for game 3 of the series but decided to put the playoff hopes of the team in the 22-year-old rookie goalie who looked stellar in game 2. Ward made the best of the opportunity given to him, played an unreal game in the Montreal building, and led the Canes to an overtime win with 27 saves. Carolina Hurricanes color analyst Trip Tracy said, “Game 3 against the Montreal Canadiens was one of the most dazzling performances off the shelf that I have ever seen as a former goaltender.” The kid went into a hornets’ nest of a building in Montreal for his first-ever playoff start and saved the team from being down 0-3. It seemed as though Ward had given the team a whole newfound confidence when he was playing. The Hurricanes would go on to win the next 3 with Ward in the net and send Montreal back home. In the second round, the Canes were dealt with a much tougher opponent in the red-hot New Jersey Devils, who had won 15 games straight.
Going into the Devils series, Ward had a perfect 4-0 playoff record, and the team was riding the backup goalie’s hot hand. Ward was set to take on his childhood idol on the other side of the ice in Martin Brodeur, the three-time Stanley Cup champion goalie. The Hurricanes made a statement in game 1 and snapped the win streak of the Devils, where Ward outfought the veteran goalie on the other side in a dominant 6-0 21-save shutout win. With so much momentum, Carolina would finish off the Devils in 5 games and take the series.
Ward got to shake hands with his idol at the end of the series, and Brodeur told the rookie “Go all the way.” just moments after he had been outplayed in a hard-fought series. The team was now in the Eastern Conference Finals and ready to take on the young and fast Buffaloe Sabres.
In net for the Sabres was another rookie, Ryan Miller, who just like Ward had been stellar for his team. This series came down to who wanted it more. This was a traditional nasty playoff series where it was back and forth.
The Hurricanes would give Cam Ward a break in the series and start Gerber for game 4 and an important game 5 when the series was tied 2-2. The Hurricanes would go down by 2 goals early in the pivotal game and turn back to Cam Ward midgame. The goalie change was a wake-up call to the team and again provided a bolster. The team would win the game in overtime and become one win away from the Stanley Cup Finals. Carolina would take a penalty in game 6 overtime and end up losing because of it.
For the first time in all playoffs, the Canes were going to game 7.
The team would be down 1-2 going into the third period of game 7. Ward would have a flawless period, and the Captain of the team, Rod Brind’Amour, would give the team a huge goal. The Canes went on to win the game 4-2 and take the series.
The Stanley Cup Finals was coming to Raleigh, North Carolina, for the second time in franchise history, and Cam Ward was making headlines all over the hockey world.
It was the Edmonton Oilers vs. the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals. Just as the previous series, it was another back-and-forth battle. Carolina would win game 1 6-5 behind a strong 34-save game from Ward. Cam Ward would add to the highlight reel in game 1 with multiple key saves to hold onto the team’s one-goal lead. The Hurricanes goalie stayed strong in game two and had another shutout in the playoffs with 25 saves in a 5-0 win.
The Hurricanes had all the momentum heading to Edmonton up 2-0. Carolina star player Doug Weight was asked about Cam Ward’s play after game 2 and said, “He’s just a rock and I think we just really feel comfortable when we score in front of that kid. He’s been a great player in this league for the last month and I can’t say enough about him.”
The Hurricanes would lose the next game 1-2, but Ward did all he could to keep the game close in a daunting Edmonton building. Ward shut the door with 28 saves on 30 shots, but it wasn’t enough for the win.
The Hurricanes would bounce back in game 3 and win 2-1, where Ward would stop 20 of 21 shots faced. The Carolina Hurricanes were up 3-1 heading back to Raleigh to try and hoist Lord Stanley. The Cup was in the building for game 5 but a back-and-forth game led to an Oilers win in overtime where the team’s powerplay won them the game. The Oilers had the momentum heading back home and shut out Carolina in game 6. Cam Ward’s 30 saves on 34 shots were not enough when the team couldn’t score.
For the second time in the Hurricane’s run, they were heading back to Raleigh for yet another game 7.
It was the biggest game in franchise history, and one of the best game 7’s to date.
The Canes would take a critical early lead and not let off. After getting a powerplay in the second period Carolina took advantage and scored another goal to go up 2-0. But early in the third period, the Oilers found new life and scored their first goal of the game. “Whatever it takes” was the team’s motto for their entire season and Cam Ward did just that the entire game and especially in the third period. Ward made one of the best saves of his career that night in the third period with a one-goal lead. Ward stopped Raffie Torres’ shot from the left side but struggled to control the rebound with Fernando Pisani skating in, but somehow managed to get his left skate on the puck just as Pisani’s stick arrived, preserving the 2-1 lead.
The captain of the team, Rod Brind’amour, said, “In life, I think about moments, little moments, little snapshots here and there and that (save) was a moment you know I am gonna cherish for the rest of my life.”
Justin Williams would seal the deal with an empty net goal just moments after the save and the Carolina Hurricanes would win game 7 3-1 and hoist the Stanley Cup for the first and only time in franchise history. Cam Ward would be named the Conn Smythe winner, the playoffs most valuable player, playing in 23 games with 15 wins and 8 losses, a .920 save percentage, and 2.14 average goals against. He would join an elite company in becoming one of very few to be a rookie and lead a team to the Stanley Cup.
Cam Ward was a huge reason why the Carolina Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup in 2006. After only playing 28 games in the regular season and not playing much at all towards the end of the season, the kid from Saskatoon caught fire in game 2 of the opening round series where he stole the show.
Ward was kick-saving one-timers and gloving wrist shots to finish with more wins in the playoffs than he had in the regular season. In capturing the Conn Smythe trophy Ward became one of only four goaltenders in NHL history to do so in his first incursion into the postseason. “I got to raise the Cup because of that kid. He just played awesome. You saw it.
He never looked like there was a panic situation.” said Hurricanes captain Rod Brind’Amour. Cam Ward was the spark the Carolina Hurricanes needed in their playoff run and was the goalie who changed the entire course of the 2006 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
As for the rest of Ward’s career with Carolina, there were a lot of ups and down but one thing that got his name alongside Ron Francis, Glen Wesley, and Rod Brind’amour in the Hurricanes Hall of Fame was his play in 2006.