Forward Jordan Staal and defenseman James Wisniewski each scored their first goals of the preseason while Ward made 34 saves to earn the Hurricanes their fourth straight preseason win – the first time ever Carolina has won that many games in exhibition play since relocating to North Carolina in 1997.
Both Ward and Pittsburgh netminder Marc-Andre Fleury, who finished with 28 stops, kept both teams skating from end-to-end throughout the opening period.
Though Joakim Nordstrom looked to have scored at the 12:46 mark, the goal was quickly washed out by the official as he ruled that the Hurricanes forward had redirected the puck into the net with his skate.
As well as Carolina played during the first period, 13 eventual giveaways throughout the game could have made for a long night if Ward wasn’t in position to make stops.
“I’ve been really happy with my movement during this training camp,” Ward said.
“A lot of it has been workin’ on it during practice, and through training camp, I feel I’ve been really strong at the practice of getting back into game situations. I’ve been very pleased with the last two games.”
Coming off a previous 7-3 loss to Pittsburgh, Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters was equally as pleased with his netminder’s play, particularly against an offensively-loaded Penguins lineup that included Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, and Patric Hornqvist putting 13 shots combined towards him alone.
“He was outstanding,” Peters said.
“He was really good. He was probably the best player in the game. He made some big saves.”
With Ward making stops, Staal eventually beat Fleury with a low shot to put Carolina ahead 1-0 with 31 seconds remaining in the opening period.
Nathan Gerbe and Wisniewski earned assists on the play that saw the six-foot-four-inch forward pick the puck up from the goal line extended and use his long reach to slide it past Fleury against the left post.
Carrying the one-goal lead through the second period, penalty troubles for Carolina gave Pittsburgh momentum and opportunity to attempt to even the score.
However, Ward helped the Hurricanes to kill all three Penguins man-advantage opportunities.
Although successful in doing so, Carolina derailed any offensive tempo it had built up.
“I really liked our first half of the game until we got into penalty trouble halfway through the second,” Peters said.
“The first period I was very happy with. I thought we made plays, hung on to the puck, and played very well. Then penalties and a little bit of execution put us on our heels a little bit and we never really got back on our toes.”
The closest the Penguins came to scoring in the second period occurred at the 12:04 mark when Olli Maata rifled a shot of the left post during the Penguins first power play.
Ward didn’t see it with Sergei Plotnikov screening him.
Ward then stuffed Evgeni Malkin twice with pad saves on a shot and rebound off a breakaway four minutes later.
The Carolina netminder didn’t wear down, and made stops through all Pittsburgh’s power play sequences.
He gloved a point-blank snipe attempt from Kessel, and made another save on Hornqvist during Pittsburgh’s third power play of the period with 2.4 seconds remaining.
Even with a clean penalty kill, Peters wasn’t pleased with the special teams effort.
“Wardo was good on it,” he said.
“I didn’t think it was spectacular. You gotta’ look at the other side. They’re rollin’ two pretty good units, so at the end of the day it was 4-for-4, but it’s gotta get better. It’s gonna get better”
With the help of forward Chris Terry, Wisniewski extended Carolina’s lead at 2:59 into the third period.
The defenseman was credited with the eventual game-winning goal when Terry’s shot made it through traffic and deflected off of him and past Fleury.
Pascal Dupuis cut the Hurricanes lead back down to one goal just under five minutes later.
Dupuis ended Ward’s shutout attempt when he tucked away a big rebound off the keeper’s left pad following Brian Dumoulin’s point shot.
Tension developed between Hurricanes defenseman Michal Jordan and Penguins forward David Perron and they eventually tussled in the corner to Ward’s left and received offsetting minors for roughing as a result.
Pittsburgh continued to pressure Ward, but to no avail, even pulling Fleury for the extra attacker during the final two minutes of play.
“He kept us in it a lot tonight,” Terry said of Ward.
“They’re a very skilled team and they’re gonna get chances, and he answered every one of them.”