After signing a 4-year, $12 million deal last summer, it's safe to say that Joel Ward underachieved for the Washington Capitals this season. He scored only six goals and was even a healthy scratch in several games down the stretch.
All it took was one backhand shot in overtime of a Game 7 against the defending Stanley Cup champions to turn Ward into an unabashed hero. It showed at Kettler Capitals Iceplex on Friday afternoon, where fans gave him a standing ovation when he stepped onto the ice for practice.
"I was blown away by the amount of people and the amount of support," Ward said.
Ward's goal on Wednesday night sent the Capitals into the second round and a match-up with the New York Rangers, which starts Saturday afternoon. That fan support was extra special in the wake of the racist comments he faced from Bruins fans after the game.
"I know what I signed up for," Ward said. "I'm a black player in a predominately white sport and it just comes with the territory."
For Noah Menditch and legions of other Capitals fans, they are determined not to let the ugly actions of a handful of Boston fans dampen their excitement about this team, which has advanced to the conference semifinals for the third time in four years.
"I'm very excited...I think they will do well in the second round and definitely go all the way," Menditch said.
It's the second time in as many seasons that the Capitals have met the Rangers in the playoffs. Last season, Washington eliminated the Rangers in the first round.
Game 1 of the series is set for 3 p.m. on Saturday in New York. Click here to check out the complete schedule.