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Joel Ward looks to keep Caps loose when pressure is on

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Joel Ward got his pay day July 1 — a four-year contract with the Washington Capitals worth $12 million. But he earned that money in April and May, showcasing himself as a dynamic playoff scorer.

Ward had seven goals and six assists in 12 Stanley Cup playoff games with the Nashville Predators. The 30-year-old right wing who was introduced at Kettler Capitals Iceplex on Tuesday said it's just a matter of enjoying that kind of pressure.

"Postseason, everybody keeps asking, it's just a fun time of year. You just try to embrace as much as you can," Ward said. "I've enjoyed playoff hockey since I was 5 years old when I first started."

The 6-foot-1, 218-pound Ward will bring some size, physicality and grit to the Caps, but perhaps more importantly, he brings a smile and a sense of confidence in the spring. For a team that has experienced a few recent playoff disappointments, that's welcome.

"It's surprising that they haven't made a real strong push for the Stanley Cup, but sometimes you just get into tough matchups in the playoffs," fellow new addition Troy Brouwer said. "The pieces are falling into place, and we just have to make sure things go right during the season."

Ward and Brouwer don't have that past to draw from — but rather good memories. With Chicago, Brouwer was part of a Cup-winning team and one that fought back from a 3-0 deficit this past season to force a seventh game against Vancouver; Ward helped Nashville win its first playoff series in franchise history.

That playoff performance by Ward meant a lot of teams calling July 1. His agent, Peter Cooney, said 20 teams were interested, while general manager George McPhee acknowledged there were 16 and that forced the Caps to overpay by 15 percent. Either way, that's a lot of interest for a guy with 99 points in 241 career regular-season games.

Ward said it was a "fun summer" because of that interest. But what stood out for the Caps?

"A lot of winning," he said. "There's no secret about it; it's a winning franchise for the last couple years."

In order to keep that winning going, Ward said he's not planning on changing his game or scoring 50 goals. That's for other players to take care of.

But it will be Ward's job to keep everyone relaxed when the pressure is ratcheted up.

"To have that chance to hoist the Stanley Cup, it would be a dream come true," he said. "You just get out there, and it's just a lot of fun. You just can't put too much stress on it."

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