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Sharks' Ward lets his play, others do talking for him

Forward has goal, assist in Game 1 win against Predators, can't explain his playoff success

by Shawn P. Roarke @sroarke_nhl / Director of Editorial

SAN JOSE -- Joel Ward couldn't explain his ability to shine in the Stanley Cup Playoffs when asked Friday after playing a leading role in the San Jose Sharks' 5-2 win against the Nashville Predators in Game 1 of their Western Conference Second Round series.

"I don't know," he said. "It's just a fun time of year. I feel like I say that all the time."

Ward's inability to answer a question about himself was the only misstep he made all night at SAP Center.

The second-line right wing did a bit of everything as the Sharks tried to shake off a week's worth of downtime against an opponent coming off the emotional high of winning a Game 7 two nights earlier.

He scored the biggest goal of the game, 11:49 into the third period, to give the Sharks a 2-1 lead that was never surrendered.

Ward took a pass from Joonas Donskoi and stormed down the left side of the ice. He said when he looked up, he didn't see much of an opening because of how much of the net goaltender Pekka Rinne was taking away by aggressively coming out of his crease.

Video: NSH@SJS, Gm1: Ward dances around Rinne for the lead

Ward became a NHL regular with the Predators during the 2008-09 season, the same season Rinne became their No. 1 goalie. They went head-to-head in practice for the three years Ward was there.

"He stopped a lot of my shots," Ward said, smiling. "It is frustrating when you shoot at him sometimes."

Not this time.

Ward waited, showing a patience for which he is not often credited, and when Rinne committed with a lunge, he made a deft move and then pulled the puck back to tuck it inside the post before running out of real estate.

"I thought he went too far," said center Logan Couture, who trailed the play and had a perfect view. "I didn't know what he was doing. He tricked us all."

Ward has that ability, especially when the games mean the most.

Video: Postgame 4/29: Ward

Sharks defenseman Paul Martin has played against Ward a lot during the past several seasons, when each was in the Eastern Conference. He knows what the Predators are feeling as they try to figure out how to contain No. 42.

"He's an honest, hardworking guy," Martin said. "He doesn't quit. He has really good hands for a big guy and he's deceptively fast.  

"Sometimes he doesn't look like it, but he can get where he needs to go. He brings it every night."

Ward brought it all Friday.

On one of his first shifts, he pancaked Nashville defenseman Ryan Ellis behind the net, using the full force of his 6-foot-1, 226-pound frame to send Ellis cartwheeling to the ice.

More than one player said that hit got the Sharks into the game.

Ward got an assist when left wing Tomas Hertl scored on the power play at 2:37 of the third period, a goal that erased Nashville's 1-0 lead and gave San Jose all the momentum. He had three shots on goal and five hits, won the majority of his faceoffs, and was plus-2.

Video: NSH@SJS, Gm1: Hertl beats Rinne short side for PPG

Yet, afterward, he remained at a loss to explain why he was so good, just as he has been at a loss so many times in the past.

Ward has played 59 NHL playoff games and has 15 goals and 41 points, an average of 0.69 points per game; his regular-season average is 0.44.

Fortunately, those around him can give a bit of insight into why Ward seems to bloom in the spring.

"I think this time of year, everybody is looking for big, heavy, hard players," San Jose coach Pete DeBoer said. "You get to this time of year in the NHL and there are eight teams left and 22 sitting home, and there is very little separating the teams talent-wise.

"It's usually will and strength and how hard you are willing to play. I think that is why he thrives, because those are his characteristics."

Couture, a Sharks alternate captain, has been impressed with Ward, 35, since the day he arrived this fall as a free agent acquisition.

"It's confidence, calmness," Couture said. "It's his attitude when he is at the rink; he's a great guy to be around. He's a guy that you don't realize how old he is when you are playing with him; he has that young spirit."

But Ward also has a mean spirit when he takes the ice, especially when the games are hard and their meaning becomes magnified.

"He's strong, physical, big-bodied, protects pucks, takes it to the net," Couture said. "He's not afraid anywhere on the ice. He's just a simple, straightforward player."

Ward is content to let others explain his impact in the playoffs. He plans on doing what he does every spring.

"I just try to embrace the moment," he said.

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