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Canadian Press
11/29/2006 5:04:22 PM

More than a few eyebrows were raised around the NHL over the past week with John Grahame making three straight starts in goal for the Carolina Hurricanes while Conn Smythe Trophy winner Cam Ward sat on the bench.

The question is, will it be four straight when the Montreal Canadiens visit on Thursday night?

Only Hurricanes head coach Peter Laviolette knows for sure and he didn't deviate from his long-standing policy Wednesday of divulging his starting goalie to the media.

''All that does is give the opposition the time to prepare,'' Laviolette said from Raleigh, N.C.

The 22-year-old Ward, about as calm, cool and collected a hockey player in the league, isn't up in arms.

But he understands why other people looking in might wonder what's going on.

''I'm not going to say that I'm happy about not playing the last three games,'' Ward said Wednesday. ''But when Johnny's in the net he's got my full support. I'm just trying to stay patient and wait for my next opportunity to get in the net and make the best of it.''

The bottom line, said Laviolette, is that despite what anybody thinks, no one was promised the No. 1 job coming into the season.

''I told them (before the season) that they have to fight for the crease,'' said Laviolette. ''When you get the opportunity to make the most of it, you'll be rewarded when you perform. But that goes with everybody on the team. There is no first line, there is no No. 1 goaltender or No. 1 defence pair.

''Everybody has to play and prove themselves to get that ice time. Johnny had played extremely well in his previous two starts and he deserved and earned to be in the net (for a third straight game).''

Grahame stopped 101 of the 109 shots he faced while going 1-2-0 in his three starts. He stopped 44 shots in a 4-2 loss against the Islanders last Thursday, stopped 25 more in a 5-1 win at Boston last Friday and made 32 saves in a 4-1 loss to the Senators on Tuesday.

''We don't really consider him a backup,'' said Laviolette. ''He was a starter last year for Tampa Bay. He had been sitting for a while for us and he came in and he played extremely well.

''The game he lost against the Islanders he was probably the best player on the ice, both teams included,'' added Laviolette. ''We didn't play well in front of him. The score could've been worse. So he deserved to go back in the net, he played extremely well.''

Ward understands the situation.

''It is what it is,'' he said. ''Before the past three games, when you look at the minutes played, I was right up there with the top three in the league. So I can't complain for the ice time that I have received. There's not a game that goes by that you don't want to be in the net. But at the same time you also realize that you can't play them all. It takes two solid goaltenders to make a great team and Johnny played well when he came in.

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