Joel Ward participated in a third consecutive practice with his teammates Wednesday in Arlington, but it’s still unclear whether the veteran winger will be in the Capitals’ lineup for Game 1 against the New York Rangers.
Ward only rotated through drills with the fourth line, though, and wasn’t a consistent part of its makeup during the hour-long practice. Despite making significant improvement over the past several days, Ward said he’s still experiencing a little lingering pain in his bruised left knee while on the ice.
“It’s a little discomfort but it’s not too bad, actually, it’s actually come down a long way,” Ward said. “I’m hoping to get in if I can. I feel confident to get out there and do work.
“From a couple days ago to now it’s been a huge drastic change, it’s been a lot easier,” added Ward, who suffered a contusion when he blocked a shot by Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Sami Salo on April 7. “I’m almost pretty close to pain free, which is good. I’m just a little bit – I got a small little percentage I’ve got to hunker down to get out, but other than that I’ve had a big drastic change.”
Coach Adam Oates, who said earlier this week he expected Ward to be ready for the series opener, downplayed any concern about the winger’s status.
“It would depend on how much the discomfort is,” Oates said. “Can he fight through it or not?”
If Ward, 32, does play Thursday against the Rangers he’s expected to slot on to the fourth line. He has recorded eight goals and 12 assists in 39 games this season and was a consistent presence on the Capitals’ second power-play unit.