Veteran Joel Ward took the long way to first Stanley Cup Final

A.J. Perez.

San Jose Sharks right wing Joel Ward (42) celebrates after scoring a goal against the St. Louis Blues in game five of the Western Conference Final of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scottrade Center.

PITTSBURGH — Joel Ward’s clutch playoff play is undeniable.

The way the veteran San Jose Sharks forward explains it, however, his heroics — maybe even his existence — wouldn’t be possible had it not been for hard-nosed former Sharks coach Kevin Constantine.

“He saved my life,” Ward said at Stanley Cup Final media day on Sunday.

Constantine was the coach of the Houston Aeros when Ward spent the 2007-08 season with the Wild’s AHL affiliate. Ward had debuted with the Wild the season prior and played in 11 games.

“He said take your time and do what you do,” Ward said.

Ward’s NHL career began to churn after he signed as a free agent with the Nashville Predators before the 2008-09 season. He soon developed a reputation as a formidable two-way player.

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But his status as a postseason performer was made with the Washington Capitals, where he scored the game-winner in overtime as the Caps dispatched the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the first-round series in 2012.

Ward’s points-per-game average in the playoffs is 32 percent higher in his career compared to the regular season. He also has both a better plus-minus and a higher Corsi rating (a measurement of puck possession) in the postseason.

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Ward, 35, has four game-winning goals in the playoffs, including the decisive goal in the Sharks’ Game 6 victory in the Western Conference finals against the St. Louis Blues; Ward scored twice in the contest as the Sharks advanced to their first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history.

Ward has never been to a conference final, let alone a Stanley Cup Final, until this postseason.

“I think a couple days ago it really hit me that I’m close to winning a Cup,” Ward said.

It was something he dreamt of doing for his local team as a child.

“Being a kid growing up in Toronto, the Maple Leafs has a couple close calls (in the playoffs),” Ward said. “So, for me this is like being a kid again. I wanted to score that big goal (for the Leafs). I kind of have that in the back of my head and that helps a lot.”.

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