Throughout the first round, Coach Dale Hunter had a familiar refrain when asked about his team’s role players. With the top talents on both sides effectively canceling one another out, Hunter said so many times, it was up to the grinders to tip the balance in the postseason.
In Game 7, Hunter was proven correct as the Capitals received goals from Joel Ward and Matt Hendricks, who played the night on the fourth and third line, respectively.
“You win series with them,” Hunter said. “The Ovechkins and the Backstroms and stuff. They’re playing against Charas and they’re tough to play against and they’re going to get their points and goals, but you need the foot soldiers. Tonight, throughout the whole series, they came through big time. … It’s a battle. You go out there and the sacrifices they make and the blocked shots, what coaches tell them to do. It’s no fun, but it’s fun when you win.”
At the beginning of the series, it was Boston’s bottom six forwards who stepped up offensively, but with the chance to advance to the second round on the line it was the Capitals’ role players who put forth consistent, hungry shifts.
Hendricks, who recorded the first playoff goal of his career to put Washington ahead 1-0 in the first period, skated 15:06, fired three shots on goal and was credited with a game-high six hits. Fellow third-liners Jay Beagle finished with 16:39 of ice time and won seven of the 10 faceoffs he took and Jason Chimera played 13:21, helped set up Hendricks’s tally, took three shots on goal and also got under the skin of Bruins’ forward Milan Lucic throughout the contest.
“I thought the role players came to play,” Hendricks said. “[Boston’s] scored a couple in the first two games and for us to step up here as of late – Joel Ward with the big goal but he had two nice assists too. It’s that time of year and it’s just nice to be able to contribute.”
Long before Ward’s game-winning tally in overtime, he along with Mike Knuble and Keith Aucoin helped create some of Washington’s best early offensive chances and sustained pressure in the offensive zone.
In extra time it was Ward, only a few weeks removed from sitting as a healthy scratch at the end of the regular season, and Knuble, who was scratched for the first three games of the series against Boston, that combined to push Washington ahead.
That Ward played just 10:44 and took only 15 shifts, or that Knuble skated a team-low 9:33 and 13 shifts won’t long be remembered – their hustle to translate a blocked shot into an offensive rush and score a greasy, in-Tim Thomas’s-face goal will be.
Neither Ward nor Knuble had regular seasons they’d like to dwell on, but they are trying to think of their postseason performance not as redemption but rather just doing their jobs.
“The regular season’s over and whatever we went through in the regular season was the regular season,” Knuble said. “I think Joel and I are thankful to get a good chance to play. We’ve played very well with Keith. I think we’ve been very responsible and we’ve chipped in and been defensively responsible.
“It’s a big thrill for Joel, for me, it’s always a thrill with the fourth-line guys,” Knuble said. “They don’t count on you to be the scorers and when you’re able to pitch in it’s a great feeling, it’s very satisfying. It didn’t matter about it tonight, it was just about us moving on.”
— Wise: Dale Hunter is one cool customer