A Stick Foul into Immortal Infamy

Humans’ impulse for empathy is a great and powerful instinct, but there are times when it is banally misapplied. Sports are, in the biggest picture context, virtually meaningless pursuits, but we do invest billions in their architecture, to say nothing of our emotional investment, and as such accountability in high stakes showdowns is inevitable and appropriate.

A few sweet souls took to Twitter in the aftermath of what has to be regarded as one of the most shocking (which is saying something), infuriating, and malicious of playoff defeats in team history last night and sought to deflect attention from where it rightly was — Joel Ward’s singular act of ruinous malfeasance.

Among these tweets were all manner of deflecting what-ifs, principally focused on the Capitals’ numerous missed opportunities to ice away a game while clinging to a 2-1, third period lead. But missed 2-on-1s and struck goal posts are altogether normal hockey outcomes in a game, any game. What Joel Ward did was anything but.

It really is as simple as this: Every hockey player must maintain control of his stick, at all times, for it is a weapon. Last night, Joel Ward’s hockey stick was a weapon of mass self-destruction.

With a mere 22 seconds to go before his team realized a remarkable 3-2 series lead against the East’s no. 1 seed, Ward fouled Carl Hagelin’s face, and in the process likely fouled as well his team’s postseason fate. Ward’s senseless and undisciplined stick foul resulted in a double minor infraction that precipitated two New York Ranger dagger goals. It is likely that Ward, and Ward alone, fouled as well one of the more remarkable postseason opportunities this franchise has ever seen deep into spring.

“Joel Ward did the UNTHINKABLE,” Ed Frankovic wrote of the infamous act. But it actually is and was thinkable because it was and ever is our Washington Capitals, in the postseason. With some routine they do infamously achieve what is for all other NHL franchises the unthinkable.

It was altogether right and appropriate for Ward’s teammates to console him in the postgame morgue that was the Capitals’ Madison Square Garden locker room, and for his head coach to focus his observations on fluky bounces of the puck late in game 5. But it is also right for the rest of us to be filled with ire and outrage,  and exasperation, and to ask of the winger, What the fuck?

“Everyone’s taken a penalty and something’s bad happened,” Karl Alzner tried to deflect. “There’s nothing he needs to say.” Alzner is a great teammate, but in this instance, he’s flat wrong. Twenty two seconds til series-swinging nirvana. The ice clogged by frenzied humanity. Life then supremely tough enough with the Blueshirts accorded an extra skater, pressing so cause they know the stakes, so the only thing you truly cannot do is unclog the sheet by a little and accord the hosts yet another skater.

This wasn’t a fluky bounce, it wasn’t the breaks just beating the boys. This was altogether preventable, and as such, sickeningly tragic.

Among big media only the Washington Times gets it right this morning, with Stephen Whyno’s game file laser beamed right in on Ward in that locker room. “I definitely let the squad down,” Ward commendably admitted. “I cost us the game with a terrible play.”

Some of those same sweet souls on Twitter last night will spend today attempting to pretend that last night’s outcome was singularly sour and but a lone defeat still mathematically possible to overcome. Dale Hunter, however, isn’t — his team isn’t even skating today. Absence from the rink after game 3 was merited by virtue of his guys’ almost inhuman exertion and sacrifice from triple overtime. Today his guys need to stay away from the rink to try and forget the dawning of that dark fate that ever seems to envelop this franchise most particularly when it’s on the cusp of postseason prosperity.

I am convinced that later today Capitals’ players will say all the right things about their remaining prospects in this series. But most of us know this morning, don’t we?

Some thoughts, too, this morning have to be directed at the Legend Coach who prior to a little before 10:00 last night seemed on the cusp of realizing something very close to a whole new legacy for the beleaguered franchise he captained to relevancy. For answering the call he did last autumn, surely he deserves better than this, no?

No, actually. Because Dale Hunter, perhaps better than anyone, knows the high hurdle this organization has to jump each and every spring. And it just got higher.

It’s savage and brutal imagining Joel Ward’s career here going forward. How in the world does he skate past this? All those regular season games to skate over the next three seasons of that gaudy (and unjustifiable) contract, and the odds of his seeing again a prosperity setup for his team the likes of this postseason . . . virtually unfathomable. That’s what makes his senseless act last night so sickening.

And unforgivable.

This entry was posted in Ed Frankovic, Hockey blogging, Joel Ward, Media, Morning cup-a-joe, New media, New York Rangers, NHL playoffs, Print, The curse of Washington hockey, Washington Capitals, Washington the cursed hockey town. Bookmark the permalink.

35 Responses to A Stick Foul into Immortal Infamy

  1. Chris P. says:

    Totally agree Johnny. You have to be in control of stick, AT ALL TIMES!! I’ve said before I can deal with a rookie or a young guy making a mistake,BUT Joel Ward is a veteran and knows better.

  2. BGSU91 says:

    It was a horrible penalty and Wardo should have been in control of his stick, but it wasn’t a Game 7 loss. There is a game on Wednesday which the Caps are more than capable of winning! I still believe they will win this series and I think they still believe that too. If they don’t, the outcome of last nights game is the least of their problems. . And I definitely do forgive Wardo!

  3. What might be most frustrating about this loss is a guy like Ward, despite his poor play throughout the regular season and terrible penalty in Game 5, will still be in the lineup on Wednesday.

    Yet, a guy with young legs and has played well through most of the regular season, Orlov, won’t see the ice and instead the traffic cones of defenseman the team is currently trotting out will be.

    So I have to ask, if it is about good and poor play defining who takes a ride on the popcorn truck and who is good enough to crack the lineup, why will Ward still be there, with his gang of mediocrity?

    Maybe Hunter will prove me wrong, but I have a feeling Game 6 will continue to be an exercise in the perplexing.

  4. Chubbs says:

    Sickeningly tragic? Come on, let’s get a grip.

    Take a look around at the real world for maybe just a nanosecond and you’ll realize that there was nothing sickeningly tragic about last night’s defeat.

    Was it a frustrating way to end a game the Caps should have won? Absolutely.

    But in the grand scheme of life, is it really that big of a deal that a favourite hockey team loses a game on a bad penalty? Not even close.

    If the emotional investment in sports is so over-the-top that it fails to allow one to properly contextualize its place in the global order, perhaps it’s time to dial back that emotional investment by a notch or two. Just maybe.

    That said, I get it. I get the frustration and all-round pissed-offedness. But rather than sit on it while it festers, grow up and get over it.

    You win Game 6 and Game 5 is forgotten. Maybe the Caps are so prone to these crushing defeats because their woe-is-me fans keep expecting them.

    Put a lid on it. Forget about it. Root them on in Game 6 and believe they can do it. They will.

    Look back to the 2001 Stanley Cup playoffs for historical precedence. Colorado is playing St-Louis. Game Three, overtime, Roman Turek is down, the net is wide open, Stephane Yelle somehow shoots it wide. Way wide. St-Louis goes on to win the game, while Yelle is left to wonder how he could have possibly let his team down in such an impossibly cruel way.

    A crushing defeat when victory was so closely within grasp? Yes. The end of the line because one tough loss, one bad break, ordained that it be this way? Not even close.

    Game Four, who scores the OT winner to get the Avs right back in it? Stephane Yelle.

    And who went on to sip from Lord Stanley’s fabled chalice that year? The Colorado Avalanche, who hardly folded after fate dealt them a harsh blow earlier in the playoffs. Nobody called that loss a sickeningly tragic defeat. Instead they got over it quickly and realized there still was another game to play.

    Time for Caps Nation to do the same.

    Come on now, believe.

  5. sonja says:

    Here’s a question we asked even before the tying and GW goals were scored … what (on God’s green earth) was Ward doing on the ice during that critical minute?? He did not belong out there at that time …

    In any case … now is not the time for heaping ashes on anyone’s head, despite how badly it may be deserved. This team needs put it’s heart & soul on the ice, Wednesday … we need to give them a reason to do that.

  6. Q says:

    Pinning this entire loss on Joel Ward? Disgusting. Last time I noticed Hockey was a team sport. If the Caps had won that faceoff, that penalty doesn’t happen. If Holtby keeps his pad down instead of trying to turn around and freeze the puck, that goal probably doesn’t happen. If Joel doesn’t create two powerplays for the Caps do they even have the chance to have that lead at the end?If the Caps are good enough one game doesn’t (or win) a 7 game series.

  7. Really? says:

    Of all the teams in NHL playoff history to win both of the first two rounds in a total of 14 games, the high water mark for wins in the 3rd round is 2. Sorry, this grave has been dug!

    And, no, this wasn’t Ward’s fault…this falls squarely on the coaching staff…like many have said, he had no business on the ice in that situation.

    Simply put, the Caps with all of their offensive talent haven’t scored enough goals. With virtually the same roster that once led the NHL in scoring! That is Hunter’s legacy as coach. (Oh, that and possibly running a few of our better players out of town come season’s end.)

  8. Angryman says:

    OFB guy: lighten up. In no way was last night the beginning of the end. Last night was dumb luck for the Rangers. The last 3 games are proving (despite what the score says) that the Rangers are kaput. And remember Joel Ward? Who I said would be the Caps savior in the playoffs? He scored the GWG vs Boston, and his been a points machine in this series Why don’t you post those numbers? Mark my words: it ain’t over.

  9. Todd says:

    Horrible penalty, Ward knows it. What you can’t do is go back and think about what went wrong. What did go wrong in those final seconds, after the penalty, in regulation was (at least) 4 whacks at the puck that Holtby kept his pads down for and repelled. At that point, he had to try to freeze the puck because his team didn’t knock any Rangers out of the play. Carlson and Alzer have been brilliant throughout, but four Rangers standing and whacking is unacceptable. Horrible end, but not the end of the series.

  10. Joel Ward has become the Esa Tikkanen of a new generation of Capitals fans. Which is a shame, because he’s a genuinely good guy, and scored that amazing OT winner last round. If the Capitals win this series, tough as that will be, all will be forgiven.

  11. Patrick says:

    Meh, a little more adversity, that’s all!
    Go Caps!

  12. Marc says:

    Wow. More than a little over the top there. “Savage and brutal imagining Joel Ward’s career here going forward”? No. That’s just silly. He didn’t sucker punch Steve Moore from behind, he committed a terrible double minor that his team couldn’t kill off. Um, ten days after scoring a series-winning overtime goal, so there’s that too.

  13. Dave at DSP says:

    How about winning ONE of the final seven face-offs?

    Sorry, I can’t go along with this. Sure, Ward’s penalty was untimely and ultimately destructive, but this wasn’t an act of aggression or laziness. Two players got tangled up, the sticks elevated. It could have easily gone the other way had Ward had the leverage.

    It’s an easy narrative to blame Ward. The Caps were outplayed last night for large stretches of time. They were out-shot 78-38 (38-18 on goal). They lost 57% of the draws, including the last seven of the game.

    Joel Ward is not the sole reason the Caps lost last night.

    And I’m sorry, frankly I’m tired of any current team, but this one in particular, suffering the fates of previous incarnations. What has happened in the past has nothing to do with the current team. Nothing.

    This team — by desing of the coaching staff — is playing for one goal games, dumbing down the most exciting sport created into nothing more than a shot-blocking contest. The offensive game-plan is to chip to center and hope for an odd-man rush. It’s ugly, boring hockey, played by the talentless and unimaginitive. ANYONE can play defense because it’s about nothing but will.

    None other than Braden Holtby said it better last night that I even could: “That’s what happens when we play a style where we block a lot shots. Sometimes those go in.”

    Sorry, had to vent. All the best.

  14. Paul Savage says:

    You, sir, are completely wrong. Yes, what Ward did was pretty bad, but it wasn’t the end of the world. Even if the Capitals had won the game, they would have still had to win one more. Yes, the chances of them taking one of the next two is better than them having to take the next two out of two.

    But calling this “unforgivable?” I’m sorry, but you completely blown this out of proportion. Normally this blog is a bit level headed, but this particular post? Yowzer, talking about a bit over the top.

    Relax, do what the Capitals did, take a breath, try to forget it, and come back tomorrow evening when they do this again. Even if they lose this series, the reason isn’t because Joel Ward committed a high stick infraction in the waning seconds of game 5. It was because people like Semin couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn if he was three feet from it. It was because our “Young Guns” aren’t so young, or having guns any more. It is because of missed chances. Faceoff loses and poor defense. It wasn’t NOT because of ONE play.

    As they did against Boston, and so they will against the Rangers. They will win or lose this series as a team, not because of one play or one individual.

  15. I term it Battered Wives’ Syndrome, or Stockholm Syndrome — the predilection among some pucksters in these parts to normalize the aberrant. It’s the notion that a lost faceoff or three earlier on equates to a senseless, needless penalty taken in a game’s deciding seconds, when both tactically and emotionally both teams are at a competition’s denoument. Again, I understand the big-hearted impulse toward empathy and sympathy. But our games do have heroes, and they have heros’ counterparts.

  16. Alan says:

    Yes, it was a travesty, and we should be enjoying an opportunity to close the Rangers out on home ice Wednesday night… But that didn’t happen. You don’t have to have been a life long Caps fan to understand the disappointment associated with this team. We all know how this ends in years past, but this year, to this point, has been different.

    In years past, do the Caps win Game 7 on the road against Boston? No.

    In years past, do they bounce back from the crushing 3OT defeat? No.

    Don’t give up. Somethings afoot in Washington.

  17. Sean says:

    Pucksandbooks, I concur with your evaulation of last nights events. The only way Joel Ward can obtain redemption, is to obtain goals in the next two games and help carry the weight of games 6 and 7 through to victory. Although, given the Caps’ playoff past, I don’t give them much of a chance. By the way, how were the rags so dominate the entire game? Game 4 they were on the ropes, they had us on the ropes all game last night, what changed in two days?!?!?

  18. Sean, I couldn’t agree with you more. Our guys perhaps need Divine Intervention, and likely Horatio Alger crafting the narrative, but yes, that’s the salvation script.

  19. Chubbs says:

    It’s not about empathy or sympathy. I don’t feel bad for Joel Ward even if some want to pin the loss squarely on his shoulders.

    Joel Ward gets paid handsomely to play hockey professionally. He understands the rewards of his trade, and surely this morning is keenly aware of its risks.

    You want to blame Joel Ward? Fine. The Caps lost Game Five because of Joel Ward.

    But why does that loss automatically render the series over? Why is it your first conclusion that Washington has no chance in Game Six?

    Last I checked, Braden Holtby has been as good as, if not better than, Henrik Lundqvist. Last I checked, the Capitals have scored some timely goals and have been in every game from the drop of the first puck.

    You know as well as anybody that hockey games are often decided on good luck and bad breaks. Ten days ago the Caps were the fortunate beneficiaries of a puck bouncing their way.

    Last night they weren’t. It’s as easy as that.

    There is no grand curse against this franchise. There are no greater forces at play.

    Where is it written that had the Caps held on last night, a series win was a given?

    Nowhere. It’s why they play the games.

    Your take could only have applied had the Caps been eliminated. They weren’t.

    Whatever happens tomorrow night happens irrespective of what went down on Broadway last night.

  20. Josh says:

    Unforgivable? There are 19 men Joel Ward is seeking forgiveness from. No one writing or reading this blog is one of them.

  21. Stewart G says:

    This is so over the top that I think it was written just to get a rise out of people. If it was serious though, you need to step back from the ledge. The Caps’ style of play and inability to put away their own chances put them in the precarious position where one call can make a difference.

    I’m not sure why Ward was out there either, but the level of vitriol in this article is a joke. There is plenty of blame to go around in this game. Ward’s penalty obviously sticks out the most but their failure to convert on multiple odd man breaks and failure to win any of the last 7 faceoffs of the game had just as big of an impact.

    You also forgot to mention that Ward drew two penalties and has been one of the best Caps along the boards in the series. Was it unfortunate the way the game ended? Sure. Does it seal Joel Ward’s fate on the Caps? Only the most unreasonable people can come to that conclusion.

    TLDR; Grow up and take a deep breath.

  22. tracy says:

    Chubbs- you are on the money about it all. Game 6, comin’ up!

  23. Mike B says:

    There were at least six other plays last night that could have come out differently by just a fraction of an inch. Any of those plays would have changed the outcome. That’s hockey.

    Ramp up the offense on Wednesday just a little bit. Forecheck more. Keep Ward in the mix. Find a way to play Orlov. Sit whoever you like. Here’s one fan who believes Ward will come to play Wednesday.

    This is a team sport. The TEAM should rally behind Ward and gain redemption collectively. 18 SOG wont get it done. Let’s kick this up a gear.

  24. Paul says:

    Sure it was terrible timing. But, hockey pros lose control of their sticks all the time! That is why the inadvertant high stick is such a common penalty. And remember that without Ward drawing a penalty earlier in the game, the Caps do not score their second goal.

  25. Mike, Paul: I’m open to being counseled to the contrary, but I simply can’t count the weight of game 5’s waning moments, given what was at stake — in this series and in the broader competitive climate I alluded to in the file — as indistinguishable from all others in the game. It’s called Crunch Time for a reason. The great franchises in sports rise to that moment, durably, reliably. Ours does not. Not yet. Obviously.

  26. capsrus says:

    Pucks – I usually like what your write, but I gotta agree with all those who are a little more than taken aback by your Ward blame game missive. Look at your last response – great “franchises” rise to the moment. Not just Joel Ward. Do you really believe the weight of Caps Nation on his shoulders caused him to make a bonehead play? Yes, he made a stupid play. And there is a large body count of others on the team who failed to convert numerous opportunities to salt the game away earlier. The team guys know that. And they know who drew the penalty that resulted in the PPG that put us ahead. Winning and losing is a team effort.

  27. Mike B says:

    Pucksandbooks, I concur,the great franchises rise to that defining moment. These one goal games are exactly what invites these kind of breakdowns. If we would just get of our own end after scoring a goal………instead we let the rags bring the fight to us……..no way to win the battle.

    There will be ample opportunity for another defining moment on Wednesday, question is, is it a Caps or a Rags moment.

    This is a gameplan problem that DH needs to adjust to now or never. Keep playing the same strategy and your oponent will find the weakness in short order.

    No counseling intended. Appreciate the discourse. Glad to see you engaged again, even if it is in a stupor of disgust.

  28. Lisa says:

    Honestly? I think this is a bit of PucksAndBooks publicity stunt. Even a die-hard Caps fan doesn’t come this unglued over a dumb mistake. (See all the blog comments? It’s working!) Anyway, yes what Ward did was dumb. But hockey is not a game of perfection. Hockey is a game of effort and heart. The Caps still have the ability to re-write their destiny and mend the persistent heartache we fans usually feel come post season.

    We can help the Caps believe. And this hockey girl DOES BELIEVE!!!!

    Go CAPS!!!!

  29. Darryl says:

    It’s a post like this that may never have me read this blog again. If it wasn’t for Joel Ward we wouldn’t in this round 2 series. To blame him for the loss is disgusting and I would expect better out of this blog. But the fire breathing venom is uncalled for. You don’t think he feels bad? As for the person who asked why he was on the ice? Well he’s on the 4th line to shut things down, He was going to his spot to defend and the sticks got tangled up and it hit the Ranger player in the face. Shit happens, It wasn’t a lazy penalty. This blog needs to really grow up and be calm..

    Have a nice life!

    Caps in 7!!!

  30. Really? says:

    This new breed of Caps fan thoroughly amuses me. In days of yore, Caps fans were wholly negative…somehow always finding a way to make even a resounding win into a loss. But this new trend of the opposite is just as frustrating. You can’t make a loss into a win, no matter how you massage the details.

    You can’t change the fact that the Caps, by fault of whoever you want to blame, lost yet another late-game lead and now trail 3-2 in a tough series. Teams that play “defensive-minded” hockey can’t repeatedly make defensive mistakes or lose important defensive battles and expect to win with such an inept offense. Two goals SHOULD have been enough for the Caps to win, but it wasn’t. 2 goals is rarely enough to win, even in the playoffs.

    Good teams, née championship-caliber teams, kill penalties…in tough situations…late in 1-goal games…with the opposing goalie on the bench. “Defensive-minded” teams even more so. The Caps didn’t have to kill a 4-minute penalty with the odds stacked against them. They had to kill a 21.3 second penalty with a lead, and a free empty-net at the other end of the ice to shoot at. Odds squarely in their favor!

    In giving up 40 shots last night, you are requiring young Holtby to maintain a tough standard…95% save percentage in the playoffs just to win the game. As great as he’s been, that’s patently unfair to expect game after game. And mind you, getting outshot two-fold on a nightly basis isn’t very “defensive-minded”, is it?

    The Caps are now 6-6 in this year’s playoffs. They now need 7 games to beat the Rangers. They need a miracle to beat history in the next round. The only way that happens now is through offense, not more of the same. You simply can’t win every-other game and win the cup. It’s simple mathematics.

    It’s ironic…the Caps are .500 in the playoffs and all is well. That same record (actually slightly better) got a coach fired in the regular season.

    But, please, tell me again how this team is different and Hunter has made the team more responsible and overall it is somehow better for Caps nation.

  31. Huck says:

    Where is the love, Mr. Pucksandbooks? Brother, you really, really need get a new lease on your Caps fandom.

    First off, you’re being way too hard on Joel Ward (how quickly we all forget who scored the series-winning goal against Boston). If he’d put a retaliatory cross-check on someone or committed some other obviously intentional foul, I might be more inclined to agree with you. But having watched the replay a dozen-plus times, it’s pretty clear his high stick wasn’t intentional. He got tangled up with a Ranger and his stick came up. Is it his responsibility to keep his stick down? Absolutely. A very badly-timed lapse in composure? Sure. But “sickening” and “unforgivable”? Not even close. I’d call it more bad luck than anything else.

    But more importantly, I can’t understand why you’re so down overall on the Boys in Red. They squeaked into the playoffs with an interim coach, a 22-year-old rookie goalie, and more issues than Life Magazine, and since then they’ve bound together as a team to knock off the Stanley Cup champs and proceed to go game-for-game, goal-for-goal with the best team in the Eastern Conference.

    Your tone seems to suggest that we the Caps Faithful are “entitled” to something better. Maybe you’re right, but watching my team play their hearts out with whatever cards they’re holding is good enough for me. Brother, you can crochet yourself a dollhouse to cry in if that’s what you choose, but as for me, I’m wearin’ my Caps jersey with pride!

  32. Michael01a says:

    With all the proper respect – would you, please, stop this scapegoat campaign right here? There will be enough time later for personal blames, but at the moment, all we can do – show some faith and support.

  33. Wing Man says:

    You can’t blame Ward any more than Holtby. On the game tying goal his pads were in a great position and at the last second, when he reached to cover the puck with his glove, he moved his right leg pad out of position which otherwise would have blocked the shot. Is it unfortunate for the team? Sure, but so is only getting 18 SOG and not capitalizing on good opportunities. Just MHO.

  34. VAcapsfan says:

    Really? Really? Frankly your out of your mind. A loss is not just a loss. A win is not just a win. Did you loose because you got beat or did you loose because you didn’t put in the effort required to win. This team was so frustrating over the course of this season because it seemed like you had players not putting in the required effort. I don’t think anyone can argue at this point that the team isn’t putting in a great effort. Bruce Boudreau didn’t get fired because of a .500 record. He got fired because the team was no longer responding to him. Right now this team is fighting under Dale Hunter and that is a big difference!

  35. Really? says:

    @VaCapsFan So tell me again how the Caps were fighting under Dale Hunter? Did you happen to see Game 7? Not much fight there!

    Bruce Boudreau got fired for the same reason Glen Hanlon got fired before him and why it never would have worked with Hunter…this Caps team isn’t built to be a defensive stalwart!

    But please explain to me how Game 7’s loss wasn’t just a loss. Please massage the details and make it a win. Meanwhile, I’ll watch the team that actually won play in the EC Finals.

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