After dropping the previous two games at Madison Square Garden, the Washington Capitals felt like they had something to prove to the New York Rangers. Losing another game in this series would put the Capitals on the brink of elimination – less than an ideal situation.
Instead, the Capitals triumphed in overtime thanks to a deft shot by Mike Ribiero. It was one of many that almost squeaked past Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist Friday night. It was his first playoff goal as a Capital and his first career playoff game-winning goal. Ribeiro wasn’t too shabby in the faceoff circle either, winning 70 percent of his draws, 19, a game-high.
“It’s obviously a very big goal for him,” said coach Adam Oates about Ribiero’s goal. “He’s played pretty good hockey for us. He’s played well in the series and just hasn’t gotten one to go his way. “
The Rangers tallied the game’s first goal less than a minute into the first period, when Brian Boyle shook loose of the Caps defense. But the Capitals know how to play when they’re behind. If there’s one noticeable and admirable quality about Adam Oates’ Capitals, it’s that they don’t seem to get flustered even when they are down a few goals. The game they play while leading a game is the same one they play when trailing.
Joel Ward, playoff hero extraordinaire, scored on a Washington power play midway through the second period to bring the Capitals even with the Rangers. Not much would change until Ribiero sent the Rangers packing with his overtime game winner.
The overtime period itself was unlike anything seen during the rest of this series – and maybe in the whole of playoffs thus far. Both teams traded chances on either end for 10 minutes. It was end-to-end, adrenaline-pumping hockey. When Ribiero potted the game-winner, the Verizon Center crowd let their pent-up emotion erupt. If the roof could have been blown off the building, it would have happened Friday night.
Top prospect Tom Wilson made his NHL debut Friday night, at the ripe old age of 19. Postgame, Wilson was all smiles and seemed a bit lost for words to articulate his experience.
“It was everything I imagined. It was just unbelievable,” said Wilson. “The fans, you could hear them, everyone could hear them. It was just the best support we could have. And to have a finish like that – it was just a dream come true and everything I imagined.”
The Capitals now lead the series, 3-2, putting the Rangers on the brink of elimination. A win for the Capitals on Sunday will send them into the second round of the playoffs, but the Rangers could force a Game 7 if they are able to best the Capitals.
Oates says the key for the Capitals is how they start the game. “We talked about trying to have a better start, which we didn’t really have again tonight.”
“Obviously it’s going to be their barn, their building, their people,” said Oates. “It’s going to be electric. We’ve got to handle the first 10 minutes of the game; once we get into the game we’re okay. It’s good hockey, as you saw tonight, but we’ve got to have a good start.”
Game 6 is scheduled for Sunday at 4:30p.m. from Madison Square Garden.