Joel Ward hopes to return to the Washington Capitals lineup for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals Thursday against the New York Rangers after missing the final nine games of the regular season with a badly bruised left knee.
Ward practiced with teammates for the fourth time Monday and figures to benefit from extra time off before the start of the playoffs.
“It definitely will be helpful,” Ward said. “I was pretty surprised that we started on Thursday but it will definitely be a positive for me. I think each day has been very important, so I’ve been saying my prayers again and just kind of keeping my fingers crossed and every day seems to get a little bit better.”
Ward rotated in with the fourth line Monday, but coach Adam Oates implied that the 32-year-old right wing would not have been ready had Game 1 against the Rangers been Tuesday.
“I still think he needs practices, yeah,” Oates said. “I don’t want to put him in without getting any time on the ice. I think it’s been too long.”
Ward blocked a shot from Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Sami Salo on April 7 and hasn’t played since. Shedding a light blue jersey in favor of a normal, white practice jersey Monday, which seemed to indicate progress.
“I’ve upgraded from baby blue,” Ward said. “I was pretty excited to get out of that jersey quickly. It was good to be in a white jersey, slowly getting back into it and feeling a part of it.”
Oates said the training staff will see how Ward is feeling Tuesday after a good workout, but a few extra days make it more likely that he’s in the Game 1 lineup.
“I’m hoping to,” Ward said. “Obviously we’ll see how these next couple days go. I think my mind feels pretty good it’s just I want to get in with the guys and kind of muck it up a little bit. I think the next couple days will be a pretty good test.”
Throwing Ward back into the intensity of the playoffs is a challenge for Oates and his assistants.
“A couple of practices will sure help,” Oates said. “Coming off the injured list you’d have to watch his minutes a little bit and the heat of the building, how much he’s playing and see what he’s got left in the tank.”