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Ward's return adds depth, experience for Capitals

by Ben Raby

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Forward Joel Ward returned to the Washington Capitals lineup Thursday for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the New York Rangers.

Ward missed the final nine games of the regular season with a knee injury he suffered after blocking a shot by Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Sami Salo on April 7.

"I get a chance to play," Ward said. "I'm excited, for sure, and I get to reunite with my buddies, so I'm pretty happy about that."

Ward had eight goals and 20 points in 39 games this season and opened the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Washington's fourth line with Jay Beagle and Matt Hendricks.

"[Ward] has the ability to keep cycles alive and keep control of the puck in the offensive zone," Hendricks said. "He's very good at that. Having Joel back on the right side is going to give us a little more offense through the lineup."

Ward's return also provided the Capitals lineup with more postseason experience. In 32 career NHL playoff games with the Nashville Predators and Capitals, Ward has 10 goals and 22 points.

Ward led the Predators with seven goals and 13 points in 12 games in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs and scored in overtime in Game 7 of Washington's first-round series last year against the Boston Bruins.

The 6-foot-1, 226-pound forward also took a costly double-minor high-sticking penalty in Game 5 of last year's second-round series against the Rangers that allowed New York to tie the game in the final minute of regulation before winning it in the opening minutes of overtime.

Ward's larger body of work in the playoffs has earned him a reputation as a player who can be counted on in the postseason.

"It means a lot," forward Troy Brouwer said of opening the playoffs with Ward in the lineup. "He had a good series last year, a good playoffs last year and a big goal to win the Boston series. When he was in Nashville, he had a lot of timely goals, key goals. So he's a clutch guy; he's that guy that pressure and the intensity of playoffs don't really faze him."

Ward said, "I just have fun with it. You have to kind of stay in that moment. You've got to be patient and just believe in your abilities, and you'll get your chance to do something and hopefully you capitalize when you do get those chances."

Under first-year Capitals coach Adam Oates, Ward was regularly featured on Washington's penalty-killing unit and the NHL's top-rated power play. Oates said Ward may be limited to primarily even-strength play in his first game in nearly four weeks.

"That'll be something that we'll go with how he feels," Oates said. "First game back in a while you don't want to ... we'll monitor it a little bit and see how he's doing through the course of the game."

Ward said, "I just obviously want to contribute and do whatever it takes just to win the game. I think that's the main thing, obviously, so whatever I've got to do to play, but [we'll] kind of see how the game goes for sure and we'll go from there, but I'm just excited to be back."

Ward's return to the Capitals lineup means that Aaron Volpatti, who played in the final 10 games of the regular season and in 12 of the final 14, was a healthy scratch.

Here is the rest of Washington's projected lineup:

Marcus JohanssonNicklas BackstromAlex Ovechkin

Martin EratMike RibeiroTroy Brouwer

Jason ChimeraMathieu PerreaultEric Fehr

Matt HendricksJay BeagleJoel Ward

Karl AlznerMike Green

John ErskineJohn Carlson

Jack HillenSteve Oleksy

Braden Holtby

Michal Neuvirth

Scratched: Jeff Schultz, Aaron Volpatti, Wojtek Wolski

Injured: Brooks Laich (groin), Tom Poti (back)

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