Capitals forward Mike Knuble, wise veteran that he is, said the day before Game 7 of an Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the Boston Bruins that both teams would “roll the dice.” That’s the way it is in a post season series that’s been so close all seven games came down to a single goal. That’s the first time in NHL history that’s happened.
“You can’t say that one team has outclassed another team on any night. Very easily somebody could have swept it 4-0, somebody could have won it 4-1, 4-2,” Knuble said on Tuesday. “But here we are 3-3. It’s who is going to get that break at the end. It’s a big mystery, tomorrow, you know? It’s almost more mysterious than anything. It’s like, who is going to get that break. Who is going to get the final bounce?”
In the end, it was Knuble himself who helped his team take advantage of a bounce. He blocked a shot by Boston forward Benoit Pouliot and created a rush up ice. He stopped in front of Thomas and jammed a shot into the crease. The rebound came out to Ward, who backhanded the puck into the net in traffic to set off a wild celebration at 2 minutes, 57 seconds of overtime.
“I went for a change and [Knuble] made a big block there and I assumed we had a little bit of a break up ice to try to take a chance,” Ward said. “And I knew he was going to take it to the rack and I just tried to follow it up as best I could. I just saw the puck laying there and I just took a whack at it and it went in.”
It is exactly why Washington gave Ward a four-year, $3 million contract. But it hasn’t been an easy road. He last scored a non-empty net goal on Jan. 7. Early in the season he was suspended one game for oversleeping and missing a team meeting. He was also a healthy scratch six other times and missed at least two games with a foot injury. Ward finished with six goals and 12 assists.
But he earned that contract – general manager George McPhee admitted he overpaid by about 15 percent – in part because of a monster postseason last year with Nashville. Ward had seven goals and six assists in 12 games. The Caps didn’t expect that kind of production during the regular season, but still were hoping for more. Ward’s true value would come in the playoffs and he proved that on Wednesday. A message from good friend Kevin Weekes, a CBC analyst, former NHL goalie and good friend, helped set the stage.
“Kevin Weekes sent me a message [Wednesday] afternoon,” Ward said. “I took those words from a guy I’ve looked up to for many years and just tried to – it’s my first Game 7 experience so I figured I’d learn from someone who’s been through it.”
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