Patience. It’s been the simple motto of the Washington Capitals throughout this first-round series. No matter how many improbable saves Henrik Lundqvist made or how many times they thought they had the Vezina Trophy finalist beat, they fought through the frustration.
Patience, Coach Adam Oates preached since the opening contest of this Eastern Conference quarterfinal. Generate the chances and the goals will come.
On Friday night in Game 5 at Verizon Center, after firing 35 shots on Lundqvist — 21 in the third period and overtime combined — the Capitals finally broke through. Mike Ribeiro scored 9 minutes 24 seconds into overtime to give Washington a 2-1 win , lifting the Capitals into a 3-2 series lead. Game 6 is 4:30 p.m. Sunday at Madison Square Garden.
In the Alex Ovechkin era, the Capitals have been tied two games apiece in a playoff series three times. They’ve gone 1-2 in those contests, with the Game 5 outcome mirroring the ultimate result of the series each time
Ribeiro’s goal, his first of the postseason, didn’t come from a well set-up play like several chances Ovechkin had earlier in the game or off a sweet series of dekes like Mathieu Perreault assembled early in overtime when he seemed to have Lundqvist beat.
Instead, Ribeiro scored after the puck redirected to him on the right side of the net following a point shot by Karl Alzner that struck the skate of New York defenseman Anton Stralman.
“All game we were grinding. All game, our line — pucks were in his cage, the puck wasn’t bouncing, and the puck just show up there,” Ribeiro said. “I was at the right time, the right moment, and we’ll take this win.
“They’re a team that will take time and space on the ice. They’re a team that likes to block shots, so we need to be patient and not get frustrated,” Ribeiro said. “We did a great job of doing that tonight — just saying patient and waiting and waiting and just turned them down wave after wave and putting pucks deep and forechecking those Ds and we were able to get that goal.”
Perhaps no one was more patient than Ribeiro, who said earlier in the week he hoped to contribute more offensively. The veteran center’s game-winner marked just his third goal in the last 20 games and first since April 18. The tally punctuated what was an overall strong game in which he also drew a penalty and won 19 of the 27 faceoffs.
“He was due,” Perreault said. “He hadn’t scored in a while and he’s been working out, doing a lot of good things for us and he finally got that goal. It was huge”.
Two hours before the game, Oates said he was concerned his team would be tight at the start. The Capitals had rough first periods that damaged their efforts in losses in Games 3 and 4 in New York and they couldn’t afford such a start at home.
“I’m worried about our start tonight,” Oates said before the game. “You’ve got your home crowd, which should give you life, but you’ve got to make good decisions with the puck. Let’s get it in, get our legs and get into the rhythm of the game.”
Despite Oates’s emphasis on a strong start, the Capitals were on their heels early and New York took a 1-0 lead just 53 seconds into the contest on a one-timer by Brian Boyle in front.
It was a rapid moving play after a defensive breakdown but it would be the only goal Braden Holtby, who finished with 24 saves, gave up.
Aside from the third line, which has been a steady source of energy and momentum-building offensive shifts throughout the series, the Capitals initially looked tight — just as Oates feared.
“It was a great start, that’s what we wanted to do, come out strong,” Rangers captain Ryan Callahan said. “Try to carry some of the momentum we had from the last two wins and I thought we did that.”
Washington took two penalties and it wasn’t until the end of the opening frame that the players began to look comfortable. But despite entering the second period trailing by one, the Capitals appeared to have finally found stable ground.
With 7:33 gone in the second period the Capitals got the opportunity they needed when Ribeiro drew a retaliatory slashing penalty on Boyle. Eleven seconds into its first power play of the night Washington cashed in.
From behind the net, Johansson found Joel Ward in the slot and the veteran winger pulled the Capitals even with a one-timer for his first goal of the postseason. Ward’s tally, which marked Washington’s third power play goal of the series but first since Game 2, released some of the tension in the building and on the ice for those clad in red.
“It was just a little wake-up call,” Ward said. “I can’t really explain exactly what happened, but they got off to their early start and we just wanted to just kind of get the nerves out there at the start and feed off the crowd for the game.”
The power play might have tied the game but the Capitals penalty kill also shined in the second period as the unit thwarted two minor penalties — Jack Hillen for holding and Carlson for shooting the puck over the glass — in the final 5:07.
“Second and third period we was very patient, play our game, put puck deep and wait our chances. Chances was there but Lundqvist was very good tonight,” Ovechkin said, explaining what he saw on those tight opportunities. “I was too close for him, I should put puck a little higher but my job to shoot the puck his job to stop the puck. He won the battle at that moment, it’s kind of when it’s coming you’re going to have chances.”
As the tied contest inched closer toward overtime Lundqvist continued to show why the Rangers have been confident building a team around him for so many years. The Capitals out-shot New York 13-4 in the third period but Lundqvist remained unfazed as he soaked up shots to send the teams to overtime for the second time in the series.
While the contest might not have begun the way the Capitals would have envisioned, that is far from their focal point following its conclusion.
“I think we just want to go on to the next game and end this,” Ward said. “It’s not how we started, but how we ended it. We ended up with a win, and we’re just worried about the next game now.”
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