Mike Ribeiro buries overtime winner as Capitals take 3-2 series lead against Rangers
Capitals forward Mike Ribeiro (right) celebrates scoring the game-winning overtime goal against Rangers during Game 5 of their NHL Eastern Conference quarterfinal at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., May 10, 2013. (RICHARD CLEMENT/Reuters)
Mike Ribeiro is no longer due.
That's because the slick centre just delivered what could go down as the biggest goal of his NHL career.
At the very least, the most timely one.
With his Washington Capitals knotted 1-1 and tied 2-2 in this series with the New York Rangers, Ribeiro got to the crease and was quick to pounce on a rebound after Karl Alzner's blast from the left point.
When the puck landed on his stick, Ribeiro beat Henrik Lundqvist cleanly to propel the Capitals to a 2-1 victory at 9:26 of the first overtime on Friday night at Verizon Center.
"I don't remember the last one," said Ribeiro, a 33-year-old who is a pending unrestricted free agent. "It's hard for me to remember yesterday. I'm getting old."
Ribeiro doesn't remember the last one because he's never scored a playoff overtime marker or game-winner in 47 Stanley Cup playoff games.
While the importance of the goal can't be overstated, Ribeiro made an equally important play earlier in the game that had nothing to do with his silky soft hands.
After getting engaged in front of the Rangers' goal with Brian Boyle during the second period, Ribeiro enticed the big forward into a retaliation penalty.
"I went to the net, he fell down and I cross-checked him and he turned around and gave me a good whack on the back of my calves," said Ribeiro. "It's a good thing I don't have much there, so it didn't hurt."
It certainly hurt the Rangers.
There's no doubt that penalty by Boyle was the turning point of this game.
After generating very little offensively up until that point, the Capitals needed all of 11 seconds to even the score, as Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson took care of the passing and Joel Ward supplied another chapter of playoff lore with a one-timer from the slot at 7:44.
Ribeiro has been known to get under the skin of the opponent a time or two during his career.
Boyle knows better than to deliver the two-handed whack, but he got caught up in the moment and the Rangers paid for it.
Rangers head coach John Tortorella didn't mince words when the subject was broached during his post-game media session.
"Dumb penalty, and you don't kill those off," said Tortorella, noting that Boyle has otherwise been performing quite well. "It just happens that way in our game."
Not lost in the bedlam was the fact Capitals goalie Braden Holtby made 24 saves to move his team within a victory of advancing to the second round.
Although he faced only four shots in the third period — including a long dump-in attempt that happened to be on goal — Holtby made a pair of saves on Derek Stepan and Carl Hagelin to keep the game alive and set the stage for Ribeiro's heroics.
"We know the feeling, of what it's like to be on the other side and how deflating that can be," said Alzner.
Holtby was quick to tip his sweat-filled cap to Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who once again gave his team a chance to win.
"Henrik obviously played great, so I was prepared for a five- or six-period game," said Holtby.
Turns out four periods was enough to determine a winner in this one, but can the Capitals find a way to close this series out against a bitter rival?
The Rangers have faced elimination before and they won't go down without a fight. Turns out four periods would be enough.
"That's when you have to play your best, when you find yourself in a situation like this," said Rangers captain Ryan Callahan. "We don't have to look too far back on how we have to respond and how we have to play. Responding won't be an issue."
Neither will getting up for a chance to close out the Rangers in one of the most famous buildings in all of professional sports.