Out since April 7 with a bruised left knee, Capitals forward Joel Ward is expected to play in tonight's Game 1 of the NHL playoffs against the New York Rangers. The 32-year-old was out nearly a month since blocking a shot by Sami Salo of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
"Every day I’ve felt better," he said at Thursday's morning skate. "I’m just looking to go out there and let the adrenaline take place and just play. But I’ve felt a lot better last the couple of days for sure."
Ward is back in the lineup just in time for the Caps who begin their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal matchup at the Verizon Center tonight (7 p.m. on CSN). The six-year pro played a key role in the team's resurgence this season with 20 points (8 goals, 12 assists) in 39 games, exceeding his total of 18 points in 73 games last year.
Ward had a memorable playoffs last season with the game-winning goal in overtime of Game 7 against the Boston Bruins in the first round. He has a history of playoff success with 22 points (10 goals, 12 assists) and a +8 rating in 32 career postseason games.
"I think that just staying in the moment is key," Ward said. "I just have fun with it. I think some people, yes it’s a very important game, but you have to kind of stay in that moment I think. You’ve got to be patient and just believe in your abilities and you’ll get your chance to do something and hopefully you capitalize when you do get those chances. I think it’s basically just going out there and having fun. You can’t stress too much that it’s a do or end all so to speak."
With the Capitals and Rangers starting on Thursday, Ward was afforded some extra rest. The series could have started on Tuesday and the forward is thankful for the two extra days.
"The extra couple of days have definitely been positive for sure," he said. "Any time you get an opportunity to get a couple more days of rest you take advantage of it so it’s actually been pretty helpful."
Ward will skate with Matt Hendricks and Jay Beagle on the fourth line as the Caps match up with the Rangers for the third time in the last four seasons. In last year's second round loss to New York, Ward posted two assists and six penalty minutes.