Photo credit: Brian Babineau
Joel Ward was a playoff hero for Nashville last year, leading the league in postseason goals at one point in the first round and ending with better than a point per game.
That grit and clutch goal-scoring was why General Manager George McPhee outbid a number of other teams to sign Ward in the summer to an expensive 4-year, $12 million contract.
In the regular season, however, things didn’t go as planned. Ward was benched one game for missing a meeting, scratched several games for poor play, and managed to tally just six goals. It was the worst offensive season of his career– though he spent most of it assigned as a fourth liner.
But Joel Ward’s play in the regular season isn’t what got him glory in Nashville. And it’s not what just put him in Capitals’ record books forever.
In the second minute of overtime, 39-year-old right wing Mike Knuble took the puck strong to the net, but Tim Thomas kicked out the rebound. Ward found the puck unguarded. Composed, he backhanded the puck past Thomas. Sudden victory! It was his first goal of the playoffs.
The 31-year-old Ontario-native talked about the goal with reporters after the game. “They were looking to dump, and I thought we might go off on a change, and then I saw we had a little bit of a break up ice. It happened so fast. I knew [Knuble] was going to take the puck to the net, and I was just trying to follow it up … I saw it lying there, and gave it one of the hardest whacks I’ve ever given a puck.”
He continued: “It’s huge. [The goal] felt rewarding for sure. I wanted to contribute as much as I could in this series and take a load off the big guys.”
Ward now joins Dale Hunter and Sergei Federov as the only Capitals to score a Game Seven game-winning goal.