View Photo Gallery: Joel Ward scores to lift Washington past Boston, 2-1, and into the second round of the playoffs.

The NHL may have more than two dozen black players, but that fact was lost in the torrent of racist tweets targeted at Joel Ward after his overtime goal for the Washington Capitals eliminated the Boston Bruins from the playoffs Thursday night.

Many of the tweets were fired off in the heat of the moment after the Stanley Cup champions were eliminated in Boston. Many were later deleted. Some have stepped forward and apologized for their tweets.

The troubling cyberpatter, which Capitals owner Ted Leonsis called “unforgivable,” was not the first racial incident in the NHL this season. In September, in a preseason game featuring the Philadelphia Flyers in London, Ontario, a fan threw a banana peel onto the ice, missing the Flyers’ black forward Wayne Simmonds.

At that time, Ward told the Post’s Tarik El-Bashir: “It was shocking, to be honest with you. I’m from Toronto, and London is only a couple hours west of there. To see something like that go down, it’s definitely shocking. It’s a little disturbing to see something like that happen, but it goes to show that it’s still out there and it still exists. Hopefully we can try to limit it.”

Ward said he’d heard racist taunts as a kid, but had not been the target of any in the NHL.

“Growing up, it was usually in tournaments,” Ward said. “Nothing like [the Simmonds incident]. When I got older and I started playing junior hockey, that stuff was non-existent, for the most part. I’ve had nothing in the NHL. If anything, I’ve had more fans on my side as opposed to against, especially in Nashville.”

Joel Ward deserved better. So did Wayne Simmonds. And so did Willie O’Ree. He was the first black player in the NHL . . . and just happened to have played for the Boston Bruins.

“I just wanted to be a hockey player,” O’Ree once said of racial taunts, “and if they couldn’t accept that fact, that was their problem, not mine.”

(Capitals Outsider,Chirpstory and Black Sports Online have the tweets in all their fury; DC Sports Bog has the less-offensive version.)

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