SAN JOSE – Joel Ward has been in the league long enough to know that the Sharks got outworked and outhustled in their decisive loss to the Blues on Saturday.
That could be why he put his body on the line in the second period against the Jets on Monday afternoon at SAP Center. Ward hustled to a loose puck along the wall with the Sharks holding a slim 1-0 lead and slipped it ahead to Chris Tierney, before getting absolutely plastered by Mark Stuart on a hit as big as you’ll see in today’s NHL.
While Ward was sluggish to get up as a result of his head bouncing off the ice surface, Tierney gave it to Timo Meier, who finished off a breakaway goal early in the second period.
While he was seeing stars from what he called a “clean hit,” Ward also heard the goal horn.
“I tried to get the puck out, obviously, and next thing I knew I was on my back and heard the horn go off,” he said. “I wasn’t too sure what happened after that.”
What happened was a 5-2 Sharks win, two days after one of their worst performances of the season, a 4-0 home defeat to St. Louis. San Jose withstood an early push by the visiting Jets but took over the game in the second period, particularly after Ward’s sacrifice.
"That's the commitment we talk about,” Pete DeBoer said. “Taking that hit, making that play, [Meier] scores the goal. We need that. Joel's a guy that brings that to the rink almost every night. That's what it's going to take at this time of year in order to have success."
In a rare afternoon start, the Sharks looked sleepy in the beginning. The Jets were the better team for the first few minutes, but Martin Jones made sure they didn’t get on the board. He made a key stop on a Shawn Matthias one-timer just 1:29 into the first period, and then bailed out David Schlemko on a defensive zone turnover a few minutes later, again denying Matthias.
The Sharks went to the penalty kill after Schlemko’s cross-checking minor at 11:39, but Ward scored 15 seconds after that, picking the corner over Michael Hutchinson for a pretty shorthanded marker. He correctly read a Justin Braun clearing attempt, when Braun rimmed it past Dustin Byfuglien, who couldn’t keep it in at the blue line.
After that, “just kind of saw glove side and fired it there as quick as I could,” Ward said.
That led to a dominant second period for San Jose. Along with Meier’s goal, Brent Burns scored on a power play and the slumping Jets were noticeably deflated from there.
Jones said the Jets “came out real hard,” but, “that’s pretty much all [my teammates] needed from me today. You can’t really ask for much more than that from the guys. They put up five, and slowed down a pretty fast team.”
Tierney said: “Joner did a great job of keeping us in it and not giving up a goal there and putting us behind. After that, we kind of got it going a bit and started playing our game.”
There was even some late comedy. Trailing 4-1 at the time, Jets coach Paul Maurice decided to take Hutchinson out for an extra attacker. Jones noticed the empty net and was lining up a shot after he retrieved a dump-in. It didn’t go more than a foot in front of him, though, as Mark Scheifele blocked it and slipped it into an empty net.
Jones could be seen grinning through his mask, while Tierney said he was “laughing on the bench.”
“That’s the first time I’ve tried [shooting at an empty net], and probably the last, too,” Jones said.
In total, Monday's result offered quite the change in mood from Saturday’s whipping.
DeBoer said: “I don't think anyone in our room was happy with how last game went. It was a good bounce-back game."
“It was definitely good today to rebound, and get back to winning,” Ward said.