The Washington Capitals returned home in a pivotal game 5 against the New York Rangers, looking to recapture the form that got them out to a 2-0 series lead. While the old cliche says that a series doesn't start until a home team loses a game, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone that doesn't recognize that these teams are locked in a dog fight. Following four games in which the road team was lucky to be as close as they were, and with a best-of-three separating these teams from the second round, the Caps didn't want to be the team to "start" the series. After a sluggish start that looked more like a game 5 to be forgotten (forever), the Caps stayed patient and fought their way back into the game. It was another hard fought game, needing extra time once again. Mike Ribeiro got position in front of the net and slammed home some loose change, securing the third victory of the series.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Coming in to this game, all eyes were on Holtby. He didn't look great in Madison Square Garden, even if he wasn't to blame for the two losses, in giving up 8 goals (and in some cases, literally giving up goals). The Caps needed him to bounce back with a strong game and he did in a big way. He wasn't tested as much as his counterpart, but he made some huge saves to keep the Caps in the game early, and several more to keep the game going late.
- Lots has been said about the power play,the strength of the team all year. The PP was unable to find the net in New York as the Rangers were taking away the set up high in the zone. On the first chance today, the Caps adjusted by throwing the puck down below the goal line to Marcus Johansson, who one-timed a perfect pass to Ward for a one-time shot. Quick, accurate puck movement, and a shot that made no mistake (unlike Ward's Brouwer-esque attempt in the first period...). Of course, on the second try at that same play (with Brouwer in the slot), the Rangers were all over the pass and didn't let Brouwer get off a clean shot.
- Of particular concern this series, the Caps' top 6 forwards have been conspicuously absent from the score sheet. Today the secondary scoring started on the PP, with Johansson and Nick Backstrom picking up assists. The game ended with Riberio's goal, and Alex Ovechkin had several great chances, including a couple in overtime. The Caps will need that to keep up if they are going to close this series out.
- Someone had to step up when Martin Erat got injured, and today was Eric Fehr's chance. He looked good all game, with several great chances and some energetic forechecking. We'd love it if he could have slammed home that chance in front, but with the win, it's no harm no foul (right?). If he can keep up that kind of play, the Caps' forward depth looks a lot better (especially if Erat or Brooks Laich can return).
- Erat's injury didn't just leave a spot in the top 6, it left a spot in the lineup. Rookie Tom Wilson (picked in last summer's first round), got the sweater today. As is the case with the vast majority of 19 year old kids, Wilson doesn't look like an impact player. Today. His feet were moving constantly, and while he doesn't have the most fluid stride he was constantly in the play and rarely caught out of position. (Of course, part of that has to do with his ice time, but let's not rain on his parade.) The kid showed some talent and a taste for contact. He's not ready for full time prime NHL duty today, but it won't be too long before he is.
- It isn't news that Derick Brassard has been dangerous all series long (natch), and today was no exception. He set up the Rangers' goal with some smart positioning and a deft pass to get Brian Boyle an open look on top of the crease. The best defenders are always up against the best forwards, so the depth guys have to step up. Brassard looks like he's that guy for the Rangers this series. He may not technically have come into the series as a top 6 guy, but he's providing the offense the Rangers need right now. The Caps will need to find a way to slow him down.
- There's been a lot of heat directed towards Ribeiro, so it's great to see him have a strong game today. The game winner is always great, but he was playing well up to that point, including a 70% showing at the faceoff dot. He won a late third period draw in the defensive zone, going 9/10 overall in the offensive zone (which is good, because with the PP advantage the Rangers had the Caps couldn't afford any more PK time). Ribeiro also was a +16 Corsi player, which has been a downfall of his all season long. Oh, and he also drew the penalty that led to the Caps' PPG. Nice game, Mike. This one's for you.
- One of the unsung performances on the Caps throughout their late-season resurgence has been John Carlson. Everybody knows he's important, most people know he's pretty good, but it seems like a lot of people are still hung up on last season and the start of this season. He looked engaged early, and I thought he looked due for a goal even before he hit the post tonight. If he can continue to bring offensive chances and put pucks to the net in addition to his strong defense, the Caps should be able to continue to put up strong possession numbers. They might also keep scoring more goals than the opposition.
- Undersized does not mean undermanned. If you need more evidence, watch Mathieu Perreault and Mats Zuccarello play. They don't back down, and they are constantly hanging out in traffic and the dirty areas. Today was Perreault's day (though it would have been even more so if he could have slid that puck into the empty net behind Henrik Lundqvist in overtime...), but Zuccarello has created his chances as well. Perreault is playing the role of Brassard for the Caps, and given my concerns about the forward depth before the series it's great to see that third line clicking and contributing.
- There isn't a whole lot to say about John Erskine's game right now that hasn't been said about Afghanistan. Nobody is going to fly in and defend the Cluster that has been his game this series. It's not that I don't think he's a valuable player. It's not that I don't think he's a good person. Every time he goes on the ice, he's unsafe. I don't like him because he's dangerous.
The Caps will have to savor the win and move on quickly. The starts are still troubling, as Adam Oates acknowledged before the game, and Sunday's game is an early one. The series may not have "started" yet, but the Caps have a chance to end it. Let's hope they don't need to bring it back to the Verizon Center to do it.