Is Joel Ward making a star turn or just another one-hit wonder?

Although Ryan Kesler was a force once again last night, Joel Ward was even better as he lead a 4-3 Nashville Predators win. The little-known Predators forward is making a name for himself in the 2011 playoffs, with a surge that seats him in a tie for second place in playoffs scoring with 12 points.

There are two basic ways someone can look at this situation.

One side will view this as Ward’s game rising to a whole new level. Sure, that three point game was his best, but he scored 9 points in Nashville’s previous 10 games too. That’s not exactly the sign of a guy who just had one good night.

On the other hand, it’s easy to ponder the possibility that he might be a one-hit wonder. Ward has seven goals in the playoffs after scoring just 10 in the entire 2010-11 regular season. It’s hard to avoid comparisons to Fernando Pisani, a player who earned a big raise with one great playoff run before fading back into irrelevance.

(For the record, I think Ward will be more useful than Pisani even if his scoring output is limited because he can contribute more defensively.)

Like much of the hockey world, I can only speculate on Ward’s future. With that in mind, I decided to ask two great Predators bloggers for their take on the following questions about Ward:

Q: Is Joel Ward’s red-hot run a sign of things to come or could he be a flash in the pan? Looking forward, what kind of impact will this run have on his contract negotiations? What price would you consider “too much” to wrap him up?

Dirk Hoag of On the Forecheck had this response:

I think one of the worst mistakes a team can make is to radically change their appraisal of a player based on a playoff run. After all, as hot as Joel Ward is these days, he went scoreless over the last 7 games of the regular season, which were also important games that the Predators needed to win. That said, Ward is still an important player to the Preds, a steadying presence who can be used in almost any situation – besides being a stout penalty killer, he’s also been one of the Nashville’s top power play scorers (relative to his ice time) for the last three seasons. I’d hesitate to go much beyond the $2-2.5 million range in terms of annual salary on his next contract, though.

Buddy Oakes of Preds on the Glass doesn’t think Ward could produce this kind of offense with Nashville and expects similar contract demands.

I don’t see Ward’s increased scoring as a long-term trend that would be sustained throughout the regular season next year. If he were to sign with a team that placed him in a more offensive role, there could be some upside, but probably not if he decides to stay with the Predators and their defense-first system.

He is currently on the final year of a two-year contract that paid him $1.5 million per year. I think someone will be willing to pay him up to $2.5 million next year but I don’t think it would be the Predators. I think he likes it in Nashville and enjoys the Predators system so he may be willing to stay with the Preds for closer to $2 million.

So both Predators bloggers would be comfortable with a small raise, but Ward might be able to wrangle a little bit more out of a more short-sighted bidder. It’s unlikely that he would maintain this kind of scoring pace in the long haul – his 25 percent shooting percent is unsustainable – yet he could still be a valuable winger at a proper price.

It should be interesting to see how he plays with a bigger target on his back in Game 6 . His contract negotiations in July might be almost as interesting, though.

A big night for the rookies and a big win for the Maple Leafs

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William Nylander helped get Toronto started on Thursday, extending his point streak to 10 games — a new Maple Leafs franchise record for a rookie.

Connor Brown finished it with his 17th goal of the season, securing a 4-2 win for the Maple Leafs over the New Jersey Devils.

Toronto has won three in a row and moves three points clear of Boston for third in the Atlantic Division, with a game in hand, which further helps the Maple Leafs’ playoff chances with nine games remaining on their schedule.

Just another big night for Toronto’s impressive crop of rookies.

Auston Matthews had a pair of assists.

— Nylander had a goal and an assist. He set one and tied another franchise rookie record on Thursday.

Mitch Marner had an assist, giving him 40 helpers this season, which ties the franchise rookie record set in 1943-44.

“They’re good players,” said coach Mike Babcock, per the Toronto Star. “I didn’t know Marner would make the team. I knew Matthews and Nylander were good players. I knew Brown and (Zach) Hyman were relentless. I had no idea (Nikita) Zaitsev was as close to how good he is.

“We have lots of good players.”

In May of 2015, Babcock predicted at his introductory press conference that the Maple Leafs would, during their massive rebuild, endure “pain.” This was, he said, to be a long process — a “massive, massive challenge.”

Approaching the two-year anniversary of that event — after all the losing that franchise and its fan base has gone through, which obviously helped them with the Matthews lottery last year — the Maple Leafs are poised to make the playoffs with a nucleus of young players that present even more promise for the future.

“We just want to get in to the playoffs, and give ourselves a chance,” continued Babcock. “We’re playing well, and finding a way to win games. That’s what we have to continue to do.”

Capitals defeat Blue Jackets in clash of Metropolitan Division powers

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WASHINGTON (AP) T.J. Oshie scored the shootout winner as the Washington Capitals overcame a stellar performance from Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to beat the Blue Jackets 2-1 Thursday night.

Despite 44 saves from Bobrovsky, the Capitals reached 104 points and extended their lead atop the Metropolitan Division and NHL standings. Oshie engendered memories of his Sochi Olympic shootout performance by again beating Bobrovsky, the goalie he scored on four times in six chances that day.

Dmitry Orlov finally cracked Bobrovsky early in the third period on Washington’s 35th shot of the game. Orlov’s goal tied the score after Seth Jones beat Braden Holtby on a wild scramble early in the third for his first goal since Feb. 7.

Holtby had 29 saves in regulation and overtime and three more in the shootout to pick up his 38th victory of the season, one shy of Bobrovsky for the league lead.

A showdown between two of the top three teams in the league jockeying for position atop the Metropolitan Division lacked a playoff feel. But the matchup of two likely Vezina Trophy finalists lived up to that billing as Bobrovsky and Holtby went back and forth with big saves.

Bobrovsky entered the night first in wins, goals-against average and save percentage with Holtby second, second and third in those categories. The 2013 Vezina winner could also be an MVP contender this season given his value to Columbus’ third playoff berth in franchise history.

“When he’s in his game it’s very hard to score on him,” said Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who had eight shots stopped by one of his Russian national teammates. “He likes the big moments, he likes pressure. His worth ethic is unbelievable. … In my opinion he’s one of the best goalies in the league right now.”

Methot ‘out for weeks’ after suffering a shattered finger from Crosby clash

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The Ottawa Senators lost defenseman Marc Methot for the bulk of Thursday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and it seems he’ll be out for quite a while longer, too.

Methot was injured on a Sidney Crosby slash across the hand in the first period. He didn’t return to the game and there was no penalty called on the Penguins captain.

Footage showed the gruesome aftermath of the slash — Methot’s finger on his left hand bloodied and injured as he skated back to the bench.

“His finger is shattered and he’s out for weeks,” said Senators head coach Guy Boucher, per the Ottawa Sun.

Methot immediately confronted Crosby after the slash, which occurred as the Sens blue liner went to dump the puck into the Pittsburgh zone late in the first period.

The Senators got revenge, scoring a 2-1 shootout victory to move within a point of Montreal for the Atlantic Division lead. Crosby was also denied in the shootout.

NHL to make ‘special announcement’ in China next week

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The National Hockey League has announced it will make a “special announcement” at the LeSports Center in Beijing, China next Thursday.

In January, the league’s deputy commissioner Bill Daly made it clear the NHL has interest in playing games in China — likely starting out with pre-season games before potentially adding in some regular season contests in the future, as well.

Just after the league made its announcement on Thursday, the L.A. Kings tweeted out that they will participate in next week’s event, along with the Vancouver Canucks.

In January, hockey insider Darren Dreger reported that the Canucks and Kings were likely to play NHL pre-season games in China this upcoming September.

Last July, members of the Boston Bruins visited China, specifically Beijing and Shanghai, to host hockey clinics in those cities.

Beijing will also host the 2022 Winter Olympics.