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Joel Ward comes up clutch for Sharks in Game 6

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Last summer when Joel Ward had his pick of teams as an unrestricted free agent he was easily sold on the San Jose Sharks.

Ward didn’t see a team that was on the verge of a drop-off. He saw a group that was proud and wanted to redeem themselves after missing the playoffs the year before.

So Ward signed with the Sharks for three years at $9.825 million believing that this team could bring him closer to his professional goal of winning a Stanley Cup instead of pushing him further away.  

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“I knew coming here it was a good group. I know a lot of people looked down on that they didn’t make the playoffs, but I’ve been there too before a year in Washington when you didn’t make the playoffs and then you’re one goal away of going to the conference final,” Ward said. “It’s a good group, a good core group of guys that are here. It’s unbelievable. You have Hall of Famers, Olympians, gold medalists. It’s a great opportunity. How could you pass that up?”

The Sharks and Ward have found themselves in a mutually beneficial relationship. His faith in the team has been rewarded with a trip to a Stanley Cup Final where he’s played a major role with 11 points in 18 games. In his team’s series clinching Game 6 Western Conference Final win over the St. Louis Blues, Ward showed his big goal ability with two goals including the game-winner early in the third period.  

"(He’s) Steady, calm. Just his demeanor on the bench. The way he plays hard, goes to the net. That’s a typical playoff guy and a guy that is a leader,” forward Logan Couture said.

Part of the reason the Sharks wanted Ward was because of his clutch play in important games. In his team’s six series clinching wins in his NHL career, Ward has scored five goals including two game-winners. 

In 596 NHL regular season games, Ward has averaged 0.44 points per-game. In the playoffs he’s averaged 0.64 points per-game in 71 games.

In Game 6, Ward put the Sharks up 2-0 on a deflection off a Brent Burns shot early in the second period. Then 3:01 into the third he took a feed from Couture on the game-winner to make the game 3-0. This came after a two-goal performance in Game 5.

“I’m a big believer that if you're a clutch playoff performer, that's something that's a gift. That doesn't go away,” DeBoer said. “I've had different guys over the years that have had that ability, and that's not a flash in the pan. That's something that consistently they have the ability to rise to the occasion this time of year. The playoffs fit him.”

The Washington Capitals let Ward walk in the offseason in free agency after Ward spent four years in DC. Following their season Washington showed some regret in not bringing back Ward. The Sharks are thankful for this decision since he’s one of the big pieces that has them closer than they’ve ever been to a Stanley Cup 

“Ward is just a big-time player,” Sharks forward Joe Thornton said. “Last year when I was watching the post-season, Wardy was a huge part of Washington. I think they miss him this year. You saw again tonight, when the game gets a little bit more important, Wardy always shows up and has a big game. 

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