- - Wednesday, May 18, 2016

ST. LOUIS — Gone, but definitely not forgotten.

As the Washington Capitals cleaned out their lockers late last week, two departed members of the core were going head-to-head in the Western Conference Final.

No matter how the series plays out, either Troy Brouwer and the St. Louis Blues or Joel Ward of the San Jose Sharks will play in the Stanley Cup Final, while the Capitals have gone home for another long offseason of reflection.

During his postseason address, Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan conceded his club missed having playoff performers like Ward and Brouwer around this spring as they were bounced in the second round by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Capitals center Jay Beagle echoed those sentiments.

“It’s obviously good to hear that, I guess, you’re missed,” Ward said during a break in the action before Game 2 on Tuesday night. “I don’t know. I had been there for four years and I’ve got a lot of friends there. Obviously, I talk to a few of the guys, not just teammates but guys I consider long-term friends of mine. It was an unbelievable season they had and it sucks for them that they came up short.”

Ward quickly pointed out that he believes the Capitals remain a legitimate Stanley Cup threat after leading the NHL during the regular season with 56 wins and 120 points.

“I’m sure they are. They’ve got to be,” Ward said. “I didn’t get a chance to watch every game, but to end up with that many points in this day, with the record that they had, it’s impressive.”

While Ward left on his own terms as an unrestricted free agent, Brouwer was traded last summer for T.J. Oshie, who meshed well on the top line with captain Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.

Once the initial shock wore off, Brouwer found his groove with the Blues and helped them overcome some past playoff failures this spring.

“I was a little disappointed, to be honest with you. I thought I fit really well in Washington,” said Brouwer, who has five goals and 10 points in 16 playoff games after recording 18 goals and 39 points in 82 games during the regular season. “Even away from the rink, I had a lot of good friends and really enjoyed the community and we were really comfortable as a family hockey-wise in Washington.

“But any player will tell you if they’re going to get traded, they always want to get traded to a good team, so I was really happy being traded to St. Louis. I think the trade worked out for both sides. Washington got a great player and I like to think I’ve done a lot of good things here.”

Brouwer and Ward remain close, but that relationship gets put on the back-burner during the playoffs.

“It’s always difficult to play against former teammates, friends,” said Brouwer, who won a Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010 and spent four seasons with the Capitals before moving on. “We had a quick little text back and forth before the start of the series, but we know that it’s just strictly business until it’s over.”

Ward has gone deeper in the playoffs than ever before, so what’s been the difference?

“In Washington, we lose a Game 7. Here, we won that Game 7,” said Ward, who had 21 goals and 43 points in 79 games this season before adding two goals and seven points in 14 playoff contests. “It’s a fine line of one goal, one play. With the group we have here, we’ve been strong mentally all year. Our road record has really given us a lot of confidence in certain situations.”

Ward, who signed a three-year deal worth $9.825 million, has been a perfect fit after the Sharks targeted him during the offseason.

“He’s one of those glue guys that just makes it fun, a great guy in the room,” said defenseman Brent Burns, a Norris Trophy finalist. “Obviously, he shows up in the big games. That’s the stuff everybody writes about and it’s true. He plays big minutes, hard minutes and those are the things that you need.”

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide