Caps forward Joel Ward will play in Game 1 vs. Rangers

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Loose Pucks,Sports,Brian McNally

Capitals forward Joel Ward returns to the lineup for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs tonight against the New York Rangers.

Ward was the lone injury question mark at the morning skate. He hasn’t played since taking a shot off his left knee in an April 7 game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. But three solid practices this week and a reduction in pain and stiffness in that injured knee have him ready to play on the fourth line with Jay Beagle and Matt  Hendricks.

“I get a chance to play,” a beaming Ward said. “So, yeah, I’m excited, for sure, and I get to reunite with my buddies so I’m pretty happy about that.”

Ward has eight goals and 12 assists this season. He was a playoff hero last year with a Game 7 overtime goal against Boston. And a goat with a tough penalty late in regulation against the Rangers that led to a goal, an overtime period and a loss.

“[Ward] had a good series last year, a good playoffs last year, a big goal to win the Boston series,” teammate Troy Brouwer said. “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 will play right wing on the fourth line with Beagle moving back to center and Hendricks shifting to left wing. Aaron Volpatti is the player pushed out of the lineup. He is joined by healthy scratches Wojtek Wolski and defensemen Tom Poti and Jeff Schultz. Brooks Laich (sports hernia surgery) is not yet back on the ice skating.  Braden Holtby starts in goal for Washington.

The rest of the lineup remains the same:

Johansson-Backstrom-Ovechkin

Erat-Ribeiro-Brouwer

Chimera-Perreault-Fehr

Hendricks-Beagle-Ward

Alzner-Green

Erskine-Carlson

Hillen-Oleksy

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