April 29, 2016 By Paul Gackle

Sharks’ Ward Continues Playoff Heroics In Game 1 Win Over Preds

SAN JOSE — Doug Wilson and Peter DeBoer envisioned moments like these when the Sharks signed Joel Ward in free agency over the summer.

Ward scored another monumental playoff goal on Friday, putting the Sharks ahead of the Nashville Predators 2-1 at 11:49 of the third period by faking out former-teammate Pekka Rinne and then sliding the puck behind his left pad as he laid sprawled out in the crease.

The Sharks added three more goals in the final 8:11 of the third, clinching a 5-2 win at the SAP Center to take a 1-0 lead in their second-round Stanley Cup playoff series with the Predators.

“This time of year everybody’s looking for big-heavy-hard players,” DeBoer said. “You get to this time of year, there’s eight teams left in the NHL and 22 sitting at home, and there’s very little separating the teams talent wise. It’s usually will and strength and how hard you’re willing to play.”

“That’s why he thrives. He’s that type of player, those are his characteristics. They don’t show up as much in the regular season as they do at this time of year.”

Ward, who’s known more for his power game than his stick play, impressed linemate Logan Couture with the move he put on Rinne, whom he played with on the Predators five years ago.

“Not many guys can pull off a move like that, I thought he went too far,” Couture said. “I didn’t know what he was doing, but he tricked us all.”

Throughout his career, Ward has shown a knack for scoring big goals in the playoffs, collecting three game winners in 59 career postseason games. He notched a overtime winner in Game 7 during the 2012 playoffs, pushing the Washington Capitals passed the Boston Bruins. Last year, he scored a key goal in the Capitals Game 7 win over the New York Islanders in the first round of the playoffs.

He also collected 13 points in 12 postseason games with the Predators during the 2011 playoffs.

How does a player with a single-season high of 24 goals continue to get the job done in the playoffs?

“I don’t know, I don’t know,” he said, acknowledging that he gets the question asked to him over and over again. “I feel like I say that all the time.”

“I just try to embrace the moment. I think it’s just the atmosphere, the crowds, whether you’re home or away, it’s just fun. Everyone’s ramped up.”

Tomas Hertl set the stage for Ward’s theatrics, tying the game at 1-1 roughly nine minutes earlier by squeaking the puck in between Rinne’s glove, his body and the right post on a Sharks power play. Ward picked up the primary assist on the play, recording a two-point night.

Couture added another goal with the man advantage at 15:40 of the third, tapping in a backhand-saucer feed from Joe Pavelski to give the Sharks a commanding 3-1 lead.

With a 2-for-3 night on the power play, the Sharks are now 7-for-24 with the man advantage in the playoffs.

Both Couture and Tommy Wingels scored empty-net goals in the final 90 seconds of regulation and Ryan Johansen added a second tally for the Predators at 18:11 of the third.

After waiting an entire week for the series to get started, the Sharks showed signs of rust in the first 30 minutes of the game as the Predators, who were playing their eighth contest in 15 days, jumped out to a 1-0 lead on a goal by Mike Fisher at 4:33 of the second.

“It was tough to jump into a game after a week off,” Couture said. “We were a little sluggish in the first. They were the better team there for a little while.”

“But we got better as the night went on.”

Ward said the Sharks were more “overanxious” than anything after waiting six days for the series to get started.

“Nerves kicked in a little bit,” Ward said. “Having that many days, just that overanxious, excited to get going again and playing. I thought we got going more in the second half.”

Throughout the first round, the Predators frustrated the Anaheim Ducks when they grabbed leads, clogging up the neutral zone and keeping their scoring chances to the outside. As a result, the Ducks didn’t erase a single Predators lead in the series.

But DeBoer commended his team for sticking with its game while trailing and eventually breaking through in the third after a lethargic start.

“We went out in the third and started to play the way we wanted to play,” he said.

“We really took over the game.”

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