Ward's points valuable for Predators now, likely worth something for him later

Monday, May 2, 2011 at 4:47pm

Joel Ward is not counting his money — yet.

The Nashville Predators forward is scheduled for unrestricted free agency at the end of the current contract year, and the fact that he has six points in eight playoff games is likely to garner him some attention at that time.

“Obviously, you can’t really think about that or you’re going to be sidetracked when you’re on the ice,” Ward said. “I’m not too worried about that. It will settle itself when all is said and done.

“Obviously right now I’m just trying to help my teammates win hockey games and trying to contribute as much as I can," he said.

Through eight games this postseason, Ward and Mike Fisher are the Predators’ leading scorers with six points apiece. Both have three goals and three assists and are within a point of the franchise record for a playoff year.

Through Sunday’s games, only eight other players had at least three goals and three assists. That group included Hart Trophy finalist Martin St. Louis and his Tampa Bay teammate Vincent Lecavalier and Washington’s Alex Ovechkin. Vancouver’s Alexandre Burrows (four goals, three assists) also was one.

Ward, whose salary this season is $1.5 million, already set a franchise record with a point in five straight playoff games — one each in the final five of the Anaheim series. He got his sixth point with the secondary assist on Ryan Suter’s game-tying goal Saturday at Vancouver.

“Joel’s been playing what I call a ‘big body game,’” coach Barry Trotz said. “He’s got great puck protection skills; he’s stayed on the puck a few times; he’s picked a few guys’ pockets and was able to make plays off of that. When he’s hard on people, just like any player, you get those second opportunities and those loose pucks, those 50-50 pucks that can actually turn into a little bit of offense.”

That little bit of offense has the potential to turn into a lot of money, if he can continue to put up points.

Happy times: Nick Spaling has had a hand in each of the Predators’ two overtime goals this postseason, which means he’s also had a lot of hands patting him on the back.

According to the 22-year-old forward, the on-ice celebration that followed Saturday’s Game 2 victory at Vancouver was somewhat better orchestrated than the one that came with the conclusion of Game 5 in Anaheim.

“It kind of split up [Saturday], so it was a little easier than the one in Anaheim,” Spaling said. “… It was a pretty good pile [in Anaheim].”

Spaling and Jerred Smithson are the only two Predators — other than goalie Pekka Rinne — who have been on the ice for both of Nashville’s overtime goals. Spaling had the primary assist on Matt Halischuk’s game-winner against the Canucks and the secondary assist on Smithson’s game-winner against the Ducks.

“I guess [if you’re on the ice], you’re the first guy in the celebration, which is always exciting,” Spaling said. “No matter where you are I think the whole team is excited; everybody’s just relieved. It’s just as exciting coming off the bench as it is being on the ice.”

On Bin Laden: The news of Osama Bin Laden’s death had a little more impact on Vancouver forward Chris Higgins than it did on most NHL players.

Higgins, who scored the only goal in Game 1 of the series, is the son of a New York City fireman. His brother is a policeman in that city.

“There’s a lot of people with some crazy ideas out there,” Higgins said. “With those two working out there, it’s a little hairy. That’s just the way it is.”

Higgins’ father was a first responder on Sept. 11, 2001, and lost a number of men from his unit.

“[Bin Laden’s death] is not going to bring his friends back,” Higgins said. “But I think it definitely helps a lot of people — in New York City, especially — to know that the guy who did that is no longer capable of hurting anyone else.”

Quote of note: “The next game’s harder than the previous one. And the one after that will even be harder. We’re OK with the hard stuff. We haven’t done anything easy, ever. … We get really good when it gets hard.” — Trotz, on what he expects for Game 3.

Sound familiar?: Ryan Kesler summed up the Canucks’ performance in Game 2 in a manner remarkably similar to the Predators’ assessment of their own Game 1 effort.

“We probably played one of the worst games of the season and we still could have won that game,” Kesler said. “… We need a better effort from all the forwards and all the [defensemen] and if we get the same effort from [goalie Roberto Luongo] we’ll be fine.”

So what’s it all mean?

“Whoever works the hardest is going to win,” Kesler said. “That’s obvious.”