Ward's resurgence creates short-term relief, but long-term confusion in Carolina
Ethan Miller / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Winners of four straight and seven of their last eight games, the Carolina Hurricanes seem to have found an answer between the pipes - but it's come from an unexpected source.

Cam Ward - who burst onto the scene as a rookie - winning the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe as a 21-year-old, is playing some of the best hockey his career at the ripe age of 33. After defeating the Penguins 2-1 on Friday, he's now 10-2-1 with a 2.53 GAA and a .917 save percentage. The latter would stand to be the second-best of his career.

The strange part about Ward's play this year is that it's come when Carolina least expected it.

Ever since his magical run as a rookie, Ward has been Carolina's primary goaltender, but for the most part, he's been pretty mediocre as far as starting netminders are concerned.

In an effort to upgrade their play in the crease, the Hurricanes went out this offseason and acquired Scott Darling - widely considered the best backup in the league over the past few seasons.

Darling is in the first season of a four-year contract that comes with an annual cap hit of $4.15 million per year, but so far he's been a major disappointment, owning an .896 save percentage and a 2.87 GAA in 24 games.

Darling was supposed to come in and be the guy on a team expected to take a big leap, but Ward has seemingly stolen his job, starting six of the team's last eight games, winning all six.

Ward was expected to ride out the last year of his contract as the backup to Darling, then probably find work elsewhere come the offseason.

(Photo courtesy: Action Images)

This scenario has put the Hurricanes in an interesting predicament. The club is ready to win now, as they sit just one point out of a playoff spot. Riding the hot goalie in Ward is the obvious answer in the meantime, given that they're looking to make the postseason for just the second time since winning it all in 2005-06.

But what happens if Ward keeps up his play all year long and Darling doesn't recover from his early-season struggles? Does Ward come back on another one-year contract and they ride out this tandem for another season?

What if Ward comes back to earth, but Darling still fails to find his game? Carolina would need to upgrade in goal once again, but Darling's cap hit makes that difficult to do, considering many of the team's young players are due for raises.

The Hurricanes need Darling to find his game before his confidence is gone for good, but that's going to be tough to do if Ward refuses to give up the crease.

Carolina allows the fewest shots per game, and the fourth-fewest scoring chances per game (at 5-on-5, per Natural Stat Trick), so they don't need Darling to come in and stand on his head night in and night out, they just need him to be serviceable.

In a perfect world, Darling and Ward both play well simultaneously, giving the Hurricanes a nice 1-2 punch this season, before Darling fully takes on the reigns next year. That's a problem head coach Bill Peters would love to have, but unfortunately, that just isn't the case right now.

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Ward's resurgence creates short-term relief, but long-term confusion in Carolina
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