In helping the Washington Capitals force a decisive Game 7 in their Eastern Conference semifinal series with the New York Rangers, Capitals forward Joel Ward’s statistics in Washington’s 2-1 victory would appear unremarkable.
Ward had 12:41 of ice time spread across 19 shifts. He didn’t figure in the scoring of either of Washington’s goals and was credited with four hits. Those numbers will not jump out at anyone, but the way Ward was used by coach Dale Hunter showed the kind of confidence he has in the player who wears No. 42.
In Monday night’s Game 5 overtime loss in Madison Square Garden, it was Ward who was whistled for a critical high-sticking double minor with 22 seconds remaining in the third. The Capitals were ahead by one goal at the time of that penalty. With Ward in the penalty box, Brad Richards tied the game in the waning seconds of the third, and Marc Staal won it at 1:35 of overtime.
When the Capitals and Boston Bruins went to overtime of Game 7 in their quarterfinal matchup, it was Ward who scored the golden goal allowing Washington to advance. He was on top of the hockey world after scoring that goal, but was taken about as low as can be imagined watching the game-tying and winning goals scored against his team from the penalty box.
When it came time to fill out his starting lineup for Game 6, Hunter tabbed Ward as one of the skaters who would be out for the opening faceoff.
Alex Ovechkin scored a power-play goal early in the first, and Jason Chimera doubled that lead at 10:59 of the second. The Capitals carried that 2-0 advantage until late in the third when Marian Gaborik drew the Rangers to within a goal with less than a minute remaining in the third.
In his attempt to hold the one-goal lead, Hunter once again called upon Ward to take to the ice. That final shift lasted 51 seconds, and even with Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist pulled for an extra attacker, Ward and his teammates did not surrender another New York shot on goal in icing the victory.
Ward knew rebounding from Monday night’s loss was an imperative part of his moving forward. He also had a lot of help from his teammates in getting past the tough experience.
"I had to put it behind me as quickly as I could," Ward told NBC Sports following the game. "The troops here, especially my linemates here, motivated me for the last couple of days, just staying positive. I’m just glad to rebound here and get the win tonight."
Ward, who signed a four-year, $12 million contract with the Capitals in the offseason, made a big contribution in last season’s playoffs as a member of the Nashville Predators. In his first season as a Capital, Ward scored just six goals and added 12 assists in 73 regular-season games.
The NHL’s other three semifinal-round matchups have already been decided. The Capitals and Rangers will have two days off before their Game 7 matchup in New York on Saturday. Ward and his teammates have already won one do-or-die game this postseason. They’ll try to do it again Saturday night.