Mike Knuble had no intention of giving up the puck. Bruins winger Benoit Pouliot had bombed down a clearing play to set up Boston’s line change early in overtime Wednesday night and although the puck did pretty much what Pouliot wanted, it wound up taking a fortuitous Washington bounce.
It caromed into the shinpads of Knuble and the wily veteran realized he was in the middle of a two-on-one. He had Joel Ward with him and the two raced in on Tim Thomas.
Knuble wasn’t looking to dish. He was going to the net all the way. Although Thomas made the initial stop, Ward was there for the rebound, and at 2:57 of overtime the Capitals ended the reign of the Stanley Cup champion Bruins with a 2-1 victory at TD Garden, winning the first-round series, 4-3.
“They were trying to do the right thing,’’ Knuble said of the Bruins. “The puck was in front of their bench and they were trying to hard rim it in and I was kind of coming up toward the puck and just on my wing. It hit me right in the shins. You come out of the pile and you can’t believe you’re where you are on the ice, you have a two-on-one. You could see they were all going for a change or whatever, and all of a sudden, it bounced out of center ice and [Ward] wasn’t going to get the pass. I was going right to the crease with that one. I was going to jam it in or something myself one way or another. Joel was smart. He didn’t swing by the net. He stopped out front and picked up the trash. I’m glad he added the finish there in the end. I’m very happy for him.’’
When told that Knuble had no intention of giving him the puck, Ward laughed.
“That’s the type of guy he is,’’ said Ward, who had six goals all season, his most recent Feb. 24 against Montreal into an empty net. “He usually looks me off in practice. But I think today he kind of saw me over there and I saw the puck land [in front] and my eyes lit up like a Christmas tree and I took a whack at it and it went in. He was going to take the puck to the net and I was going to follow it up and stay around for a loose puck at the end and it happened to be right there. When I saw the guys come off the bench, that’s when it hit me that it was all over.’’
Although Knuble was reluctant to make it about anything other than team’s advancement to the next round, he acknowledged that it was gratifying for the fourth line to get the winner. Knuble had been a spare part at times and Ward wasn’t always confident in his position in the lineup.
“It’s good, you chip in,’’ said Knuble, who was playing in his fourth game of the series. “We chipped in during Game 5 here and to come back with one tonight, it’s a big thrill for Joel, for me. It’s always a big thrill for the fourth-line guys. They don’t count on you to be the scorers. When you chip in, it’s a great feeling, it’s very satisfying. It didn’t matter who got it tonight, it was about us moving on.’’
Ward said it provided a bit of vindication for him after an inconsistent regular season, which had him pretty much a nonfactor for much of the second half of the season, although he was slowed for a period by a foot injury as well during that time.
“I felt like I had a lot more to bring to the team,’’ he said. “I was just waiting for my moment, so to speak, an opportunity to get back in the lineup and try to make a contribution. I never doubted myself. I think a lot of people expected a lot more offense out of me and I tried to play two-way hockey. I had some chances, for sure. My biggest letdown I think was that my teammates doubted me a little bit and that was the toughest one to swallow. I’m glad to help out tonight and I just want to let them know I’m here to help and contribute as much as I can.’’Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.