When George McPhee signed Joel Ward to a four-year, $12-million deal, many thought it was an exorbitant contract based on a playoff performance he’d never live up to. But then, he sorta did.
Photo credit: Susan Walsh
In the summer of 2011, the Washington Capitals gave Joel Ward a four-year, $12 million contract. The deal was largely based on Ward’s play over 12 games when Ward scored 13 points during Nashville’s run to the second round under Barry Trotz. In the regular season that year, Ward had scored just 10 goals. He was 31-years-old. Some of George McPhee‘s gambles didn’t work out, but this one did.
Photo credit: Nick Wass
Braden Holtby is that good. He has been the best goalie of the playoffs, posting a .951 save percentage through 11 games. But on Sunday night, the New York Rangers offense finally broke through. They jumped out to a 4-1 lead before the Capitals almost pulled off an unbelievable comeback. For the first time this postseason, we saw Holtby crack. Washington’s faith in him, however, is unshaken. They were not interested in talking about Henrik Lundqvist, who turned aside 42 shots in Washington’s one-goal defeat.
“Our goalie’s better,” Evgeny Kuznetsov, defiant in his postgame media scrum, said. “I don’t know what you want to listen from my mouth, but our goalie’s better.”
The Caps at one point during the third period were down 4-1. Then Evgeny Kuznetsov and Joel Ward scored and made it a game! First, the 22-year-old rookie scored his fifth goal of the playoffs off a broken play in front of the net. He now leads the Caps in goals.
The Washington Capitals may have just been jobbed out of a big goal.
Set up just outside of the crease, Caps forward Joel Ward screened Henrik Lundqvist as Matt Niskanen unleashed a bomb from the point. Then: craziness.
The shot, which was going wide, deflects off a Rangers stick towards the net. Derek Stepan shoves Ward, Ward collides with Lundqvist, and the puck bounces into the net.
Official Kevin Pollock immediately waves the goal off for incidental contact.
Photo credit: Bruce Bennett
Alex Ovechkin has never made it past the second round of the playoffs. It’s a trite fact, but unavoidable. He’s been in the NHL since 2005, with his window as a primary goal-scorer closing. In 10 years, he has yet to win a Stanley Cup. Some core players around him, like Mike Green, are likely to leave this summer or within the next few years. This may be Ovechkin’s best chance to win a Cup as the undisputed leader of the Washington Capitals. Ovechkin seems to know that. In this year’s Division Final against the Rangers, DC’s captain has put on an astonishing display of talent and dedication, nearly winning games for the Capitals off his play alone. On Saturday, he came up short, but it was another immortal individual performance.
“He’s a force,” coach Barry Trotz said. “No question.”
Midway through the third period, Washington was down 3-1, having just given up a crushing goal to Rangers forward Derick Brassard. Just 90 seconds before Rangers fans were to begin their eight-minute mark “Ovi Sucks! Ovi Sucks! Ovi Sucks!” onslaught, Ovechkin bumbled down the ice with three Rangers on him. He knifed straight through Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, New York’s top defenders, as the two hopelessly whacked at Ovi. Falling to his knees, he let off a perfectly placed wrist shot that went top shelf on Henrik Lundqvist. It was a goal that was nearly impossible to imagine another player in the NHL scoring. It was utter brilliance, under immense pressure, on a huge stage. Save for the cheers of Capitals players, MSG fell silent.
Ward smiling after Derek Stepan tries punching him.
The Washington Capitals won game one at Madison Square Garden in surprisingly easy fashion– though it took a last-second goal to win. The first twenty minutes of game two have been way different.
But I’m an optimist, so let’s focus on the awesome things that happened in the first period first.
Image by me
Thursday night, after tallying the game-winning goal with 1.3 seconds left and becoming the third NHL player ever to score a playoffs GWG with two seconds left, adoring Capitals fans started memeing Ward.
Photo: Jared Silber
A few years ago, Dan Steinberg asked Joel Ward why his teammates call him The Big Cheese.
“Just the big guy on campus, you know?” Ward explained. “The Big Cheese, it’s like the king on the throne. I mean, the Cheese kind of holds everything together in here, you know?”
On Thursday night, Ward, playing on the first line again with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin, showed why he’s such a big deal. The winger scored with 1.3 seconds remaining in the third period after being marvelously set up by Alex Ovechkin. Ward also scored in game seven on Monday. He famously netted the series-ending goal in deciding game against the Boston Bruins two years ago.
Photo credit: Jared Silber
So, it’s the Rangers again. For the fifth time in seven seasons, the Washington Capitals will square off against the folks from Madison Square Garden in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. These series have produced signature moments in Capitals history, such as Sergei Fedorov‘s game seven winner in 2009, and crushing defeats, like when the Rangers outlasted the Capitals by just one goal in game seven of the second round in 2012, booking a spot in the Eastern Conference Final. But, as is their pattern this year, the Washington Capitals will tell you this team is different. They don’t pay attention to the past.
“All that old stuff, get rid of it,” head coach Barry Trotz, in his first year with the Capitals, said. “Let’s look to a new era. Let’s build something.”