Joel Ward has been dealing with a bruised left knee for almost a month, and it remained uncertain Wednesday if the injury will keep the Washington Capitals right wing out for Game 1 against the New York Rangers on Thursday night.
Ward practiced for the third consecutive day and reported feeling good, though he only rotated in on rushes with the fourth line.
“I’m hoping to get in if I can,” Ward said after an hour-long practice. “I feel confident to get out there and do work.”
Coach Adam Oates said there was a “good” likelihood that the 32-year-old will play in the Caps’ postseason opener.
“It would depend on how much the discomfort is,” Oates said. “Can he fight through it or not?”
Oates did not reveal who would come out of the lineup if Ward is able to play. It figures to be left wing Aaron Volpatti, which would mean Matt Hendricks on that side and Jay Beagle centering the fourth line.
Ward scored series-winning, Game 7 overtime goal against the Boston Bruins last season and is considered someone who raises his game in the playoffs.
“He’s been a big part of our team all year,” Oates said. “He’s a big guy, patrols the walls well and you need that.”
Ward had eight goals and 12 assists in 39 regular-season games. That’s a major improvement over 2011-12, when he had six goals and 12 assists in 73 games and a reduced role under Dale Hunter.
Ward hasn’t played since blocking a slap shot from Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Sami Salo on April 7. He’s still “almost pretty close to pain-free.
“It’s a little discomfort but it’s not too bad actually,” Ward said. “It’s actually come down a long way. I’m excited about that. Each day has been great. I’ve been really having some positive days as of late.”