Home ice continues to be a huge advantage in the Capitals Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the New York Rangers. With Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist down and out after a New York turnover, Mike Ribeiro buried a shot into an empty net 9:24 into the second consecutive overtime contest at the Verizon Center to give the Capitals a 3-2 lead in their first round series. Alexander Ovechkin, whose 9 shots easily topped all other skaters, failed to crack the scoresheet for a third consecutive playoff game – a career first – but the Caps head to Madison Square Garden with a stranglehold on the Rangers and a chance to end the series on Sunday.
John Tortorella, the always colorful head coach of the New York Rangers, doesn’t exactly see it that way.
“I don’t consider it an elimination game,” he said. “We’re trying to win one game. I’m not going to even use that word.”
For a player who mustered only one assist in the first four games of the series, Ribeiro’s game-winning goal was the culmination of a great game and an even better final shift, where he kept play alive and in the offensive zone before notching the OT winner.
“I felt good right away,” Ribeiro said. “Last game I had a bad game in the (faceoff) 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. It was important for me to bounce back.”
Compared to a tight 60 minutes of hockey that had the Caps and Rangers knotted at one, overtime was an end-to-end affair, with Washington and New York trading quality chances. Mathieu Perreault and Alexander Ovechkin both had excellent opportunities to end the game, but were stoned by Lundqvist, who finished with 33 saves.
Ribeiro maintained that his team didn’t let Lundqvist’s brilliance or the Rangers defensive style frustrate them.
“Their team will take time and space on the ice,” Ribeiro said. “(They) like to block shots, so you need to be patient, not get frustrated and I think we did a great job of doing that tonight…staying patient and waiting and waiting and staring them down.”
The Caps faced an uphill battle after another sluggish start, falling behind just 53 seconds into the first period when they gave Brian Boyle, all 6’7” of him, way too much time and space at the top of Holtby’s crease. Boyle didn’t waste the opportunity, burying Derick Brassard’s behind-the-goal-line feed for his second goal of the playoffs.
“We’ve talked about trying to have a better start, which we didn’t really have again tonight,” Capitals head coach Adam Oates said.
After Boyle’s goal, Washington continued to make potentially costly turnovers and failed to sustain pressure in the offensive zone. It took Boyle’s ill-timed retaliatory slash to swing momentum in the Capitals favor in the second period. Joel Ward cashed in on a tick-tack-toe play 11 seconds into Washington’s first power play to tie the game at 7:44 of the second period. The ice really tilted in Washington’s favor after the Caps, who killed all four Rangers power plays, shut down two back-to-back New York man advantages in the waning minutes of the second period. The Caps outshot the Rangers 19-9 over the final two frames and 13-4 in the third period.
“We didn’t have a forecheck, which means our (defense) faced a lot tonight,” Rangers forward Brad Richards said. “(The Caps) were coming hard and we didn’t do enough to keep the puck in their end and take the pressure off.”
Considering the home team has won every game in this series, Oates and his team are expecting a battle from the Rangers on Sunday.
“Obviously it’s going to be their barn, their building, their people,” Oates said. “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.”