Thanks in part to a clutch goal by Joel Ward in Game 3 on Saturday night , the San Jose Sharks have a chance to even their best-of-seven Stanley Cup Final tonight against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Shark Tank (8 p.m., NBC).
Capitals fans had to feel a little jilted when they saw Ward score the game-tying goal with time running out on a Sharks four-minute power play in the third period, sending the game into overtime, where rookie Joonas Donskoi won it 12:18 into the extra session.
Kind of like seeing your ex out on a date with someone else.
After all, this was the same Joel Ward who knocked the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins out of the playoffs with a Game 7 overtime goal for the Capitals in the first round of the 2012 playoffs.
The same Joel Ward who used his butt to deflect an overtime shot by Nicklas Backstrom past goaltender Jaroslav Halak in Game 4 on Long Island last year, allowing the Caps to even that series at 2-2.
The same Joel Ward who reportedly asked the Capitals for a four-year contract extension last summer before settling on a hefty three-year, $9.825 million contract with the Sharks.
The same Joel Ward who, at age 35, now has seven goals in these 2016 playoffs, four coming in the third period or overtime and three either tying the game or putting the Sharks ahead.
After Saturday night’s 3-2 win, the Sharks’ first ever in a Stanley Cup Final, Ward was asked why he’s been able to score so many clutch goals.
“I don't know,” he said. “I just visualize. I've watched other sports. I've watched other guys and always tried to emulate, listen to their quotes. I got one from Paul Pierce. I watched him in the playoffs the last couple seasons (including last year with the Wizards). People always knocked him down a little bit in the regular season, but in the playoffs he always stepped up.
"Athletes like that, that step up at different times, I try to pick up little things. I just visualize, think about going out there and having fun. It's just fun. Just enjoying the moment. I think the atmosphere of the games and the crowds, all that really speaks for itself.”
Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan, who essentially traded Ward and Troy Brouwer for Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie last summer, said the Caps missed the net-front presence of Ward and Brouwer, each of whom carved reputations for scoring goals in the paint.
Ironically, Ward’s game-tying goal in Game 3 was a blast from about 40 feet and came just as Nick Bonino’s double minor for high sticking was expiring. Sharks coach Peter DeBoer called a timeout to keep his first power-play unit on the ice, but it was Ward and the second unit that got the job done.
“That's kind of been the history of our group, the second unit's come up big at different points for us,” DeBoer said.
“That's what happened. They hopped over for the last 10 seconds. Wardo's been a big-game player for us all year. A big goal.”
And maybe a soft one, according to Penguins rookie goaltender Matt Murray, who was handcuffed on the shot and had it find a hole between his catching glove and left pad.
“Yeah, that was a bit of a weird one," Murray said. "His release point was a little bit further back than most slap shots are, and it kind of dipped a little bit at the last second, and I just waved at it and missed it.”
Ward said the mood in the San Jose locker room was “pretty chilled” between the third period and overtime. That relaxed atmosphere turned into elation after Donskoi’s overtime goal and now the Sharks have a chance to send the series back to Pittsburgh even at four games.
“We've always felt good,” Ward said. “The group is always upbeat. Pretty chilled and relaxed. Just come out hard, play our game.”
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