OTTAWA — When the Blackhawks signed Cam Ward to a one-year deal this past offseason, it didn't exactly win over the fanbase about shoring up an important position that essentially did them in last year.
After Corey Crawford went down with a concussion on Dec. 23, 2017, the Blackhawks had nobody to turn to or depend on for a long period of time. J-F Berube, Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass each had their shot and played well in short stretches but couldn't give the Blackhawks consistency over the long haul.
There were plenty of other goaltending options on the market this summer, but many of whom were looking for larger roles and an opportunity to cash in on a bigger contract with term. The Blackhawks brought in Ward because they wanted somebody in the short term who's capable of handling a bulk of the load, if needed, but also stay fresh and add value in a backup role.
More importantly, they wanted a veteran presence in goal who has been through the ups and downs and knows how to control his emotions through it all.
After allowing three goals on 10 shots in the first period of Thursday's season opener against the Ottawa Senators, Ward shut the door in the final 40:38 by turning aside all 15 shots he saw the rest of the way. Much different than his United Center preseason debut when he gave up six goals on 17 shots.
"He just didn't quit tonight," said Patrick Kane, who scored the overtime winner to give the Blackhawks a 4-3 victory. "That's a big way to bounce back. He kind of had that preseason game and then giving up three in the first when none were really his fault but they were going in the net, so for him to bounce back and shut the door the last two periods gives us a lot of confidence in him and I'm sure he's feeling pretty good about it, too."
Last year the Blackhawks reached the double-digits in goaltending relief appearances. That's far too many. But it was because they were so inexperienced in net.
There are going to be times where it might be difficult to stop the bleeding. It happens. But with Ward, who's entering his 14th NHL season, he's been around the block a few times to know how to handle those situations and prevent them from getting worse, like he did on Thursday, and like the Blackhawks couldn't do last year.
"For myself, I just need[ed] to calm down," Ward said. "You want it so bad that sometimes it can work against you. I thought that first period I was really excited about the opportunity to play and start the season. I felt good, but I felt like I was moving around a little bit too much. Then in the second and third I just felt a lot more composed, made the big save when we needed it. That's my job. We stuck with it and it paid off."
When the flood gates opened in the first period, with the Blackhawks and Senators basically trading goals to compile five in the first 20 minutes, it can be hard on a goaltender to stay sharp mentally even if it's not your fault that they're going in.
But the ability to make those in-game adjustments and allow yourself to slow things down on the fly is exactly why the Blackhawks landed Ward. He's been there and done all of that, and can rely on his past experiences to get him through those moments.
"At that point, you just got to take a deep breath," Ward said of the five-goal first period. "There's a lot of hockey left to be played. You never want to give up three in the first period. As much as you'd like to take it away, you can't. You've got to battle, you've got to move on. Like I said, I just needed to take a deep breath and calm myself down, was able to do so and feel pretty sharp the rest of the game."