Cam Ward doesn’t have to prove anything after more than a decade in the league and with a Stanley Cup ring in his dresser drawer. But he badly wants to.
It has been a season of filling in here and there for the Blackhawks and hoping he gets the next opportunity. They gave him one last week, and he got chased after six goals in two periods.
But the old warhorse showed Tuesday that he’s still got it.
Ward was terrific for all of regulation and overtime, then shut down the Islanders in a shootout to send the Hawks into the All-Star break with a 3-2 victory at the United Center.
“I didn’t like my last game,” he said. “You could either go through the motions or stand up and give your team a chance.”
It was by far one of Ward’s best performances. He stopped 34 of 36 shots for his second-highest save percentage of the season and allowed his second-fewest goals.
He gave up a soft goal two minutes into the game and another that slipped by him on Mathew Barzal’s breakaway in the second period, then shut out the Islanders the rest of the way.
The shootout opened with Jonathan Toews scoring top-shelf, and Ward made good on it by stoning a backhander from Josh Bailey. Patrick Kane followed Toews by crossing over Islanders goalie Robin Lehner, then beating him stick-side, and Ward ended it by saving a wrist shot from Barzal.
The Hawks’ bench emptied as the players swarmed Ward on the ice.
“Once Patrick scored, in my mind, there was no way we were losing it,” Ward said.
“I thought my game progressed like the team did throughout the game . . . then when it mattered most, fortunately I was able to make the save.”
With a nine-day break coming up, there was concern about whether the Hawks would take this game as seriously as Ward clearly did, but they were locked in rather than checked out.
They’ve talked about fighting for a playoff spot, and they looked like they meant it against the first-place Islanders. It was a gritty effort after falling behind 1-0 and 2-1 early before Toews tied it on a power-play goal late in the second period.
“Our work ethic was pretty good,” Toews said. “Sometimes it’s easy to let your mind kind of wander elsewhere. We did a good job of not getting ahead of ourselves.
“We had to work for it tonight. Our power play made a difference for us, so that was nice. Everyone brought a pretty good effort, so I think we’re feeling pretty good.”
Oh, that power play. It has been a game-changer, and the Hawks mainly can thank Toews, Kane and Alex DeBrincat. Kane and DeBrincat assisted on Dylan Strome’s power-play goal in the first period, and DeBrincat and Strome set up Toews’ goal.
In mid-December, the Hawks had an atrocious 11.4 percent success rate on power plays. They’ve cashed in on an absurd 39.6 percent in 16 games since.
“Guys are making a lot of plays,” coach Jeremy Colliton said. “It’s fun. Fun to watch.”
It’s weird to think of the Hawks being fun to watch in any regard this season, but they were Sunday in the 8-5 victory against the Capitals, and they put on quite a show against the Islanders.
They’re on a two-game winning streak, which is no small feat for this team, and they looked like a team capable of a stunning run. The playoffs are still an incredible long shot, but nights like this reignite the intrigue about what the Hawks might pull off when they resume Feb. 1 in Buffalo.