1. So here we are again. Last year the Capitals and the New York Rangers were tied 2-2 in a best-of-seven Stanley Cup playoff series and Washington was moments away from securing Game 5. Instead, a late Joel Ward penalty led to a game-tying goal by Brad Richards with just seconds remaining. Madison Square Garden exploded and Washington wilted in a devastating overtime loss. The Caps survived Game 6 at home, but ultimately were dispatched in a bitter Game 7 loss in New York.
The tables are turned now. On Friday night at Verizon Center, Washington controlled play in the second and third period and finally, finally broke through with an overtime game winner by veteran center Mike Ribeiro at 9:24 of the extra period. This time the Rangers are left facing elimination at home in Game 6. This time the Caps were the ones joyously careening around their locker room after Game 5. Maybe home-ice advantage really does matter. The road team has yet to win a game in this series. Game 6 will now be at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday afternoon in New York.
2. It hasn't been an easy stretch of hockey for Caps center Mike Ribeiro. The man who was so productive early in the season as the losses mounted and the frustration grew, had yet to score a goal in the best-of-seven Stanley Cup playoff series with the New York Rangers.
But Ribeiro has made his two points count. The first was a fake slap shot that became a pass to defenseman Mike Green for the overtime winner in Game 2. The second was a goal of his own on Friday night when a Karl Alzner point shot was deflected by Troy Brouwer right to Ribeiro, who slammed the puck into the vacant right side of the net for a 2-1 victory.
Ribeiro had two goals and 13 assists in his previous 19 games, including four in the playoffs. Through the first 22 games of the season he had nine goals and 19 assists.
[Ribeiro] was pretty much carrying us for most of the season, just point after point," Alzner said. "It's nice to see him put a goal in. good for his confidence. We got that guy going, it's a big threat on the second line."
But his recent slump had carried over into the postseason. The second line as a unit had just Ribeiro's assist and Brouwer's Game 3 goal to show through the first 16 periods of the series - four games plus Friday's contest through regulation. But Ribeiro insisted his confidence wasn't shaken.
"No, just a lot of times way I play is the next shift is a new one," Ribeiro said. "You'll make a mistake or you'll get mad at the refs one shift, but you need to get, especially in playoffs, you stay soggy a bit for a few shifts, but playoff time you don't have time to waste your energy on the shift that just passed."
Ribeiro joked that he did some pushups to better prepare for the faceoff circle on Friday. He won 19 of 27 faceoffs (70 percent) on Friday two days after going 2-for-11 in Game 4 on Wednesday. Whatever the reason, he was better prepared to deal with New York's centers.
"Last game I had a bad game in the circle and a lot of times when you have good games in the circle your focus is better, you start with the puck, you're not chasing as much," Ribeiro said. "It was important for me to bounce back. I think I had two and nine last game so it was important for me to be strong in that circle and start with the puck and play well defensively. I felt like last game I was cheating a bit defensively and I think if you play well positioning and work hard good things will happen."
3. Yes, Ribeiro's goal was the biggest play of the game Friday night. But back-to-back penalty kills late in the second period gave the Caps a chance at all. Defensemen Jack Hillen (holding) and John Carlson (delay-of-game) put their team in a rough spot. But some stellar penalty killing kept New York off the board four almost four full minutes and kept the game tied 1-1.
"It gave us a little bit of momentum," defenseman John Erskine said. "But the big thing is guys are paying the price - they're blocking shots and just blocking out. We're getting the job done. It was a big part of our win [Friday]."
New York managed just three shots on goal. The Caps blocked seven during that stretch. Paying the price, indeed. Erskine alone had three. Matt Hendricks had one, Steve Oleksy had another. So did Karl Alzner and Hillen. They could have wilted when - just 15 seconds after Hillen's penalty was killed, Carson flung the puck over the glass in the defensive zone for his penalty. But Washington rallied and responded again. New York's power play is now 2-for-21 in the series.
"That was a tough part of the game," Alzner said. "We were all getting a little bit tired, the killers right there when we took two in a row and Carly logs a lot of penalty-kill minutes, so it's tough to have him in the box. I hate that call just as much as anybody, puck going over the glass, so I knew how badly we need to kill that for him."
4. Ribeiro made another big contribution aside from the winning goal. His half cross-check, half push so incensed Rangers forward Brian Boyle that he slashed Ribeiro at 7:33 of the second period. The problem? New York was off on a 3-on-1 rush up ice and the whistle put a stop to that. To compound the issue, the Caps needed just 11 seconds for Joel Ward to register the power play goal and tie the game 1-1
"Dumb penalty and you don't kill those off," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "It just happens that way in our game. And that's a guy that's playing well for us, but it's a dumb penalty."
Ribeiro gave his side of the story: "It was a big play in the game: I don't know. I went to the net, he fell down, I cross-checked him, he turned around and give me a good whack on my calves, but good thing is I don't have much [muscle] there so it didn't hurt."
"That's a big goal for us. We had a hard time the last few games on the power play," Ribeiro said. "Keeps us in game, we don't have to chase, focus better after that and you saw after that, I don't know if they have a shot in third period. We came pretty hard after that."
5. Oates decided to change his defensive partners in the second period of Friday's game. He moved Jack Hillen up with John Carlson while a struggling John Erskine down to the third pair with Steve Oleksy. He did so at the suggestion of defensive assistant coach Calle Johansson.
"I've played with [Oleksy] before when I came back off injury [in March]. We've been watching each other all year, we know each other's habits so they want to switch the pairings up it's nothing to us."
Erskine took line rushes at Saturday's practice and was back with Carlson so maybe that was just an in-game adjustment that won't stick. He was on the ice for Boyle's first-period goal and struggled with several turnovers early.
"It's not easy," Alzner said. "I know what that's like, though, to change a partner and sometimes it can be tough. But the guys did a good job with that. I don't think it affected us too much. We're lucky that the guys are all pros and they know how to figure it out."