Ward, Staal offer no excuses

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:30 AM ET

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Look closely at the red-white-and-black logo neatly embroidered on the front of the Carolina Hurricanes uniform, and there is no denying it really does resemble a bull's-eye.

For Cam Ward and Eric Staal, it feels like one, especially in the past week -- with the two Hurricanes stars playing the roles as targets.

Through three games of this best-of-seven Eastern Conference final between the Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins, Ward and Staal, normally Carolina's best players, have been the 'Canes' biggest disappointments.

Now, down 3-0 in the series and knowing their season will come to a grinding halt with a loss tonight in Game 4 at the raucous RBC Center, both players are accepting responsibility. There are no excuses. No claims of bad luck. No finger-pointing at a bad bounce here or a bad bounce there.

Ward, who is paid to keep the puck out of the Carolina net, has allowed 14 goals in three games against the Penguins.

Staal, who is paid to put the puck in the opposing net, has zero goals in this series.

Any way you add it, it's a recipe for disaster.

Ward, who has taken some heat for being unavailable to the media the past few days, insists he has not been ducking anyone. Not the media. Not the critics. And certainly not the boo-birds.

Asked if he has been unfairly criticized of late, Ward, instead of snapping at the inference, broke into a wry grin.

"What's been said about me?" he responded. "Who's been talking trash?

"Look, I feel I'm one of the leaders on this team. If people want to put the heat on me, I'll take it."

Ward insists he welcomes the pressure instead of running away from it.

"I'm the goaltender," he said. "That's why I signed up for the position I did. I want to be the guy to come up and perform at a high level. The guy to show the team if we do make mistakes I'm going to be the guy to bail us out. I like to do that.

"I feel I've made some saves in this series. Sometimes it's not about the saves you make. It's about the goals you let in.

"I want to be better. I need to be better."

About five cubicles away, Staal was receiving a similar grilling concerning his lack of production.

"I'm counted on to score goals and counted on to produce offensively," Staal said. "(Still) I think I need to be a little better in my end of the rink and focus on that first. Everything else will take care of itself. That's sort of the way my game is.

"When those opportunities come, they're going to fall. I didn't score 40 goals for no reason. I know what I can do, and I'll continue to attack on that.

"(The scrutiny) is going to happen. The media is going to say things ... I've got to respond and get better."

Unfortunately for Ward and Staal, Canadian Olympic team general manager Steve Yzerman has been in the press box to watch Games 2 and 3 of this series. In that time, he has seen Ward allow 11 goals while failing to see Staal score one.

Yet Yzerman is savvy enough to know you can't judge a book by it's cover. Or, in this case, a pair of players on just one series. Both should remain strong candidates to attend the Canadian Olympic orientation camp in August in Calgary.

More importantly, both are proving to be accountable guys in good times and bad. In an Olympic tournament in which Canadian players must have the mentality that "anything less than gold is unacceptable," such a character trait is a must.

Of course, Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice could not care a lick about what happens in Vancouver in nine months. His only concern is seeing his team preserve its season tonight.

And for that to happen, Cam Ward and Eric Staal must return to form. Period.


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