WASHINGTON – Washington Capitals forward Joel Ward has a way of stepping up when it really matters. He did it again Monday in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the New York Islanders.
He can’t explain why. He just knows it’s a lot of fun.
"You want to be in that moment," Ward said. "You want to make plays and you want to be that guy. I just happened to get a few bounces and get to put it in."
Three years ago, Ward scored the deciding goal in overtime of Game 7 against the Boston Bruins in the first round to help the Capitals advance.
"We just wanted to play hard and put everything aside and play for each other," Ward said. "We worked hard this year as a group and we came together, we just wanted to execute the best we could."
Ward was the first to crack Islanders goaltender Jaroslav Halak after 40 minutes of desperation.
Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik sent a hard shot toward the net from the boards. Ward was in front of the crease, like he usually is, creating a little bit of havoc for the goaltender.
Halak couldn’t control the rebound and Ward took advantage. A couple whacks later and Washington led New York 1-0.
It was reminiscent of his goal against Boston, where Ward picked up former Capitals forward Mike Knuble’s rebound and scored the game-winner.
Ward said after the game that he hoped it made Knuble proud.
"I think it was a Mike Knuble-ish type of goal," he said.
Those moments are the reason Ward was signed by Washington as a free agent four years ago on July 1, 2011.
Undrafted out of college, Ward signed his first professional contract with the Minnesota Wild in 2005-06. He spent much of the season with the Houston Aeros of the American Hockey League, but it helped him develop into the responsible two-way player he is today.
In 2008, Ward signed with the Nashville Predators and played under Barry Trotz, who coached in Nashville for 16 seasons before coming to Washington. Ward scored 17 goals that year.
Trotz knows Ward well but even he can’t explain how Ward does what he does, time and time again.
"Some guys just have a knack for the big goals at big times," Trotz said. "He goes to the hard areas when it counts. That’s what [Ward] has always done."