Ward a hero turned goat

Capitals winger Joel Ward wasn't smiling Monday night. His late double-minor penalty led to the...

Capitals winger Joel Ward wasn't smiling Monday night. His late double-minor penalty led to the game-tying and game-winning goals for the Rangers in Game 5. (KEVIN LAMARQUE/Reuters file photo)

STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:25 AM ET

NEW YORK - The dressing room door opened and, in the silence of defeat, the hero of Round 1 sat alone, his eyes staring downward, his words a whisper, expression closer to shock than blank.

“This stings,” Joel Ward said, not hiding from the disappointment and juxtaposition of being overtime hero one week, goat of misfortune the next. “It’s tough when you let your team down. We were a few seconds away from winning, and it turns into a loss.

“Just like that. It’s tough, tough to be in this position.”

Others may not be this brave, this strong. But Joel Ward has never been much like others. He is a popular teammate among the Washington Capitals, but he's also playing some of the most important fourth-line minutes he could possibly play.

He scored the goal in Round 1 that eliminated the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins. Monday night, with the Caps 22 seconds away from taking their first lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal against the New York Rangers, he was trusted enough by his coach, Dale Hunter, to be on the ice for a win that got away.

Everything seemingly was going the Caps' way until Ward lost control of his stick. He was penalized four minutes for high-sticking. Four minutes the Capitals may not have time or energy to recover from.

“A game of inches,” Ward said.

The Rangers scrambled, battled and found a way to send the game to overtime with just seven seconds remaining while Ward sat in the penalty box. After scoring one power play goal, they scored another. Marc Staal’s winning overtime goal, which deflected off one Washington player, maybe two, put the series in doubt for the Caps. A series they were oh-so-close from taking the lead in.

It has been that kind of bounce here, bounce there, series. There is that little to choose from between these teams. There was just the personal disappointment of Ward, whose penalty could not be killed, whose teammates could not bail him out of.

“It sucks to let the squad down,” he said.

“It sucks,” Caps winger Troy Brouwer said, “because we were right there and we had them. We were seconds away. This is tough to swallow, very tough, but at that same time we’ve got to pick it up. We can’t dwell on the way it happened. Especially because it’s Wardo.

“No one feels lower than him right now. But at the same point, he’s the guy who got us in this situation. If not for him ... He’s such a great team guy. We have to bail him out in that situation. It’s up to us.”

It is difficult to know just how many emotional turnarounds the Caps are capable of. They came back against the Bruins, won Game 5 in Boston, won Game 7 in overtime. The Caps also lost in triple-overtime to the Rangers in Game 3 and found a way to come back in Game 4. It is bounce one way, bounce the other without any rhyme or reason in how it ends. The Caps were terribly outplayed in the first period Monday, but trailed by only one goal. They came back to tie the game, blocked a million or so shots, took the lead in the third when defenceman John Carlson scored on the power play and seemed in position to go home in position to win the series Wednesday night.

Then Ward was called for the double-minor high-sticking penalty. The Rangers didn’t play with one man advantage: They pulled their goalie and played with two. With everybody around the net scrambling, Brad Richards all but paid his rather large salary by sending the game to overtime.

The winning goal by Staal, off a faceoff win by John Mitchell, showed the Caps starting at their best, the result ending up as the worst. Brooks Laich, who had scored Washington’s first goal, tried to block Staal’s shot. It looked like he got a piece of the puck, and maybe another Caps player did also, before the puck went past rookie goalie Braden Holtby.

“I don’t know if I touched it,” Caps centre Matt Hendricks said. “I don’t know. It doesn’t really matter.”

What matters is how the Caps recover. They came back from a triple-overtime defeat against the Rangers and back from losing Game 6 to Boston. “We had the game,” Brouwer said. “We have to regroup We’ve got to do this.”

For themselves. For Joel Ward.

steve.simmons@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/simmonssteve


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