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Joel Ward channeled Paul Pierce in Game 3

Joel Ward channeled Paul Pierce in Game 3

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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3 reasons the Caps beat the Sabres

3 reasons the Caps beat the Sabres

The Caps could not shake Buffalo for two periods, but a dominant finish on Saturday helped them pull away for a 5-1 win. Here's how they finally put away the Sabres.

A quick start

Strong starts go a long way towards helping a team in the middle of a slump. It's a confidence boost for a group in desperate need of one and the Caps got that boost on Saturday from Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov used his wheels to zip in behind the defense and score just 50 seconds into the game. Washington led 1-0 at the end of the first, just the second time in 19 games they have held a lead after the opening 20 minutes.


Andre Burakovsky snapping a second period slump

It looked in the second period like the Caps were caught trying to protect the lead again, but Andre Burakovsky woke the team back up with his incredible highlight end-to-end goal. It really looked like Buffalo was going to tie the game at one, but instead, Burakovsky extended the lead to two. Going end to end the way he did shows a player who is starting to play with some confidence, something Burakovsky has lacked for much of the season.

Ovechkin's two-goal third period

Buffalo would not go away. Sam Reinhart got the Sabres on the board just 14 seconds into the third period and suddenly the Caps found themselves in a one-goal game again. But Ovechkin ended any hopes for the comeback as he struck in the top corner of the net on the power play from the office. He would later add a deflection goal to extend the lead to 5-1, giving a scuffling Washington team the dominant win they so sorely needed.

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3 stars of the game: Caps erupt in 3rd for dominant win over Sabres

3 stars of the game: Caps erupt in 3rd for dominant win over Sabres

The Capitals needed a win in the worst way and they got one, dispatching the Buffalo Sabres in dominating fashion with a 5-1 win.

Washington was locked in a tight game leading 2-0 heading into the third period when Sam Reinhart scored just 14 seconds into the period to pull Buffalo to within one. The Caps then slammed the door shut, scoring three unanswered goals to put away the Sabres.

Here are the three stars of the game.

1. Alex Ovechkin: This was career game No. 983 for Ovechkin, tying him for the franchise record for most games played with Calle Johansson. Ovechkin very fittingly celebrated the occasion with two goals. The first came on a power play goal from the office, but there was no need for a one-timer on this one. The Sabres gave him all the time he needed to aim up the shot and wrist it into the top corner.

He added a second goal late off a deflection from a John Carlson shot.

2. Evgeny Kuznetsov: To say the Caps have struggled at the start of games would be an understatement. In the last 18 games, Washington has held the lead after the first period only once. Kuznetsov made sure this game started off on the right foot as he scored just 50 seconds into the game. He turned on the jets in the neutral zone to turn the edge on Jason Pominville then easily skated around a weak, ill-advised challenge from Robin Lehner before flinging the puck into the yawning net.

It was the fastest goal to start a game by the Caps this season. It was just the start of what would be a four-point night for the Caps' center as he added three assists.

3. Andre Burakovsky: Burakovsky had the highlight of the game with his end-to-end goal in the second period to put Washington up 2-0. He looked like he was shot out of a cannon as he launched himself from the defensive zone, streaked down the center of the ice and in on net to slide the puck through the Lehner's five-hole.

Look how Burakovsky was able to slice through the Sabres' defense. Buffalo had him surrounded, but his speed caught the Sabres off-guard and they were not able to recover in time to actually slow him down.