Irony and circumstance are not always kind to the Washington Capitals when it pertains to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Rarely does Washington benefit  this time of the year when circumstances tend to come full circle, as they did last night for one particular player wearing a red sweater but it isn’t the guy who scored the game winner.

The GWG (game winning goal) was scored by Caps center Mike Ribeiro. Ribs, as his teammates call him, masterfully gained position down low on Rangers defenseman John Moore 9:24 into overtime and slipped home a rebound from a Karl Alzner shot from the point to give his team  a 2-1 win in the game. The GWG also gave the Capitals a 3-2 lead in their best of seven of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series vs. the New York Rangers.

Ribeiro has not been as productive as he would like during the playoffs. But none of the Caps top six forwards have exactly lit the score sheet on fire. Alex Ovechkin has just two points with a goal and an assist while Nicklas Backstrom has three points with a goal and two assists. Troy Brouwer and Ribeiro each have a goal and an assist.

Washington will at some point need one or two of these players to make a more frequent trip to the score sheet if the Caps are  going to win this series, but despite the lack of scoring, these guys are still creating quality scoring chances and playing a great two way game in this series.

Sometimes you simply have to give the guy between the pipes the credit he deserves. The reigning Vezina Trophy winner happens to be Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist and he has been superb for the Blueshirts. King Henrik is the No.1 reason why the Rangers can still lace up ice skates instead of golf shoes.

While it is nice to have top notch scoring in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it is not one of the three key ingredients necessary to win Lord Stanley’s Cup. Teams that have a hot goalie, who are playing great defense, while staying disciplined, often find that the third ingredient suffices when it comes to winning games. That third ingredient is timely goal scoring and that’s what the Capitals top six forwards have essentially done during this series, none more timely than Ribeiro’s marker last night.

Missing from last year’s series vs. the Rangers was the depth the Capitals are showing in this series. While Marcus Johansson and others filled in admirably as the Caps second line center, Ribeiro showed his mastery as a veteran centerman in scoring the game winner last night. With the Caps blue liners looking to tee up a shot, Ribeiro battled Moore down low to the right of Lundqvist. Then just before Alzner fired the eventual shot that would turn out to produce the rebound Ribeiro needed, he turned his body to face Lundqvist while also giving Moore a slight nudge. The slight push off was enough to allow him the split second he needed to get the first crack at the rebound, which he buried with authority.

Although I must confess, the sinister Caps fan in me is still in shock Ribs did not look to pass considering he’s passed (no pun intended) up on more than a few chances to take a quality shot, including one at the end of the Game 3 when Washington had a six on four manpower advantage. 3.

Speaking of the Capitals depth that brings me to the irony and full circle set of circumstances surrounding last night’s Capitals win and the player that scored the game tying for Washington.

Before we proceed further, it will be necessary to look back at a previous Caps playoff game and while on most occasions that is never a wise idea, this one I promise, at least to this point, has a happy ending.

WARDING OFF A GAME 5 DEMON!

Flashback almost a year to the day, May 7 to be exact--- Game 5 of the Capitals-Rangers Eastern Conference Semi-Finals series. Washington was coming off a 3-2 Game 4 victory at home and was 22 seconds away from stealing a win in New York. The Caps led 2-1 and if they held onto to win, would have a 3-2 series advantage coming back to D.C.

Capitals winger Joel Ward was the toast of the town in the Nations Capitals. He scored the overtime goal in Game 7 of round one to knock out the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins. Ward was actually having a good all-around playoffs. He was even having a good Game 5 as he drew two penalties, including a hook on the Rangers’ Mike Rupp early in the third period. Capitals defenseman John Carlson scored on the ensuing power play for a 2-1 lead with 15:40 to play.

With exactly 21.3 seconds to play, the Capitals were hanging on for their Game 5. playoff lives, clinging to that one-goal margin when Ward and Carl Hagelin lined up for a faceoff to the right of Caps net minder Braden Holtby. After the puck was dropped, Ward lifted his stick and struck Hagelin in the mouth as the two battled for position. Hagelin was left bleeding from his lip. In the NHL, that’s not only a penalty but two of them and Ward was sent off to serve his double minor high-sticking infraction.

“I was trying to get around his stick and got my stick under him,” Ward said. “And that was it.”

It took only 15-seconds for the ghosts of the Capitals playoff past to reappear, as the Rangers Brad Richards, much like Mike Ribeiro did last night slid a rebound off the post and into the net to tie the game at 2-2. Madison Square Garden went nuts and for the sake of all Capitals fans around the world, they should have just made the goal worth two points because it was only a matter of time as to what was going to happen next.

Ward exited the penalty to join the rest of his teammates in the locker room for the overtime intermission but the extra 20-minute break only served as additional torture to the inevitable.

The inevitable occurred just 1:35 into the extra session. This time it would Rangers defenseman Marc Staal with a slap shot from the point to win it. The shot would actually deflect off Brooks Laich stick on the way but it did not matter, two goals in a span of 1:42 seconds and the Rangers owned a 3-2 series advantage.

Ward could only sit in the box as streamers poured down from the MSG ceiling, watching in clear pain, as the Rangers celebrated an improbable win for them but just another typical Capitals playoff loss.

After the game, Ward was a standup guy and spoke with the media. Asked what was going through his mind as he watched helplessly from the penalty box as the Rangers cashed in on both minors, Ward paused to collect himself.

“Not much you can do really,” he said somberly. “You just hope you get another opportunity to redeem yourself. We just came up short. It definitely [stinks] to let the squad down.”

Ward went from playoff hero to playoff goat in a short 10-days but the opportunity to redeem himself would take much longer in the eyes of the playoff hardened Capitals fans. While Ward had a solid season, Caps fans wanted to see Ward excel in the playoffs. It is after all, a big reason why General Manager George McPhee admittedly overpaid for his services two years ago in free agency.

Ward had nine goals and 17 points in 18 playoff games with the Nashville Predators. His hardnosed style of play in front of opposing goalies during the Western Conf. playoffs was seen as something the Capitals lacked in their trips to the post season, so McPhee made him a Capital.

At the conclusion of last year’s regular season, his first as in D.C., Wards name appeared at the top of many lists that read “Worst Free Agent Signings from Last Offseason”. He had career low goal and point totals and appeared to get lost during the coaching shuffle in D.C.

He reappeared in Game 7. Vs. the Bruins last year in round one with the game winner in OT but what happened in Game 5 vs. the Rangers would stick in Capitals fans minds.

What happened next only lends further credence to the saying, time heals all wounds. When you consider how NHL owners power played their way past the players during the league’s most recent lockout, which delayed the start of the NHL season until late January, Joel Ward may have been the only player the NHL lockout actually benefited as Caps fans seemed to either forget or bury the ugliness of Game 5 vs. the Blueshirts.

Ward would rebound to register eight goals and 20 points in 39 games this season, which was two more goals and two more points than he scored in 79 games last season. But redemption didn’t come full circle until Dan Boyle slashed Mike Ribeiro to give the Caps their first power play of the game.

Ward joined Ovechkin, Backstrom, Marcus Johansson and Mike Green to form the Caps PP unit. Washington won the ensuing face-off, setting up its 1-3-1 extra-man alignment. Backstrom passed to Marcus Johansson beneath the goal line to the right of Lundqvist and Johansson slid a beautiful pass to Ward, who was all alone in the slot. Ward fired a one-timer home from there to tie the score a 1-1 just 11 seconds after Boyle was whistled for his minor infraction.

With one goal and three assists, Ward is tied with Mike Green and Mathieu Perreault for the team lead with five points this spring. Ward must be feeling a lot better this morning, especially if you consider the year it has been for him. A year that included a slew of racial remarks from Bruins fans after scoring the GWG in Game 7 last spring on his Twitter page, not to mention the heat he took for the undisciplined play in Game 5 last year.

Let’s also hope Ward learned a valuable lesson last year that staying disciplined is not only a key ingredient in Stanley Cup playoff success but playing undisciplined hockey can take you from playoff hero to goat faster than you can Good Morning-Good Afternoon and Good Night Caps fans. In case you don’t know, that is the phrase Caps play-by-play man John Walton says, as time runs out on the clock following a Caps victory.

STATS TIGHTEN UP:

Statistically Henrik Lundqvist (2.12 GAA .928 SAVE PERCENTAGE) may not be outplaying Braden Holtby but he is the reason the Rangers are playing GAME 6. Lundqvist has stopped numerous one on one attempts and thwarted many in close two on one situations for his team.

The two teams have just about played even in terms of real time stats in the series.

The Rangers have blocked 15 more shots that Washington and lead the NHL during the playoffs in that category but it’s likely if they were to have just say 10 less, this series could be over. The Blueshirts have needed every one of the 117 blocks they have sacrificed to get up to this point.  

Washington dominated in the faceoff circle to take over the lead in that category in the series. Washington won 42 of the 72 red dot draws in Game 5 and now has 159 faceoff wins to the Rangers 155 in the series.  The Capitals also outhit NY 53 to 43 in Game 5 but still have 36 more in the series.

The Capitals are outshooting the Rangers in the series 164-149. Despite the 15 sot disparity, the Capitals have missed only two more (74) shot attempts during the series compared to the Rangers ( 72).

CAPITALS PLAYOFF NEWS AND NOTES: (FROM CAPITALS MEDIA POST GAME NOTES)

VARIETY IS THE SPICE OF LIFE OR AT LEAST IN THE STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS FOR THE CAPITALS:

Ribeiro became the 11th different Capital to light the red lamp in this series; only Mike Green (2) has scored more than once for Washington in the five games. Of the 16 NHL teams in the 2012-13 Stanley Cup playoffs, only the Ottawa Senators and the Pittsburgh Penguins (12 each) have had more different goal scorers than the Capitals.

KILLING THEM SOFTLY….OR NOT!

Washington killed off all four New York power plays in Friday’s game and has now killed 19 of 21 (90.5) Rangers power plays in the series. Only Chicago (100%) has had better penalty killing success so far in the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs.

The Rangers attempted 20 shots during their eight minutes of power play time on Friday, getting seven on net and having a dozen of them blocked. Hendricks blocked six of those shots and four Capitals defensemen combined to block the other six. 

New York spent four minutes of a 4:15 span with the man-advantage late in the second period, getting three shots on net and seeing seven bids blocked during that span. New York has had 21 power plays to just 14 for the Capitals in the series. Game 5 was the third straight game in which the Rangers had twice as many extra-man opportunities as Washington; New York has had 14 power plays to seven for the Capitals in that stretch.

NOT STARTING STRONG:

Washington has been outscored by a combined 4-1 in the first 20 minutes of play in the five games of this series. The Caps are tied with Vancouver for the fewest first-period tallies of the 16-playoff entrants.

BUT THEN AGAIN, IT DOESN’T MATTER HOW YOU START SOMETIMES:

Since the end of Game 1 of this series, the Caps and Rangers have played a total of 257 minutes and 24 seconds of hockey. Washington has held a lead for exactly 8 minutes and 44 seconds of that stretch, all of that coming in the first period of Game 3. Washington won Games 2 and 5 in overtime without ever holding a lead at any point until lighting the lamp in the extra session. 

THROW OUT THE REGULAR SEASON WILL YA:

During the 2012-13 regular season, the Rangers were 18-2-1 when scoring the game’s first goal and 13-0-1 when leading after the first period. Thus far, in this series, the Blueshirts are 1-2 when scoring the game’s first goal and 1-2 when leading after the game’s first 20 minutes.

TOM TERRIFIC: 

Friday’s Game 5 marked the NHL debut of Caps right wing Tom Wilson, the team’s first-round (16th overall) choice in the 2012 NHL Draft. After spending the 2012-13 season with the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL, Wilson joined the AHL Hershey Bears for the Calder Cup playoffs last week. The Bears were eliminated on Wednesday by virtue of a 3-2 loss to the Bruins in Providence, and Wilson joined the Caps at practice on Thursday morning.

Wilson more than held his own.  He registered four hits, a takeaway and a shot on goal in eight shifts totaling 6:24.  

“It was everything I imagined,” says Wilson. “It was just unbelievable. 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 6-foot-4, 210-pound Wilson becomes just the fourth player in Washington’s franchise history to make his NHL debut in a Stanley Cup playoff contest. He follows Chris Felix (April 10, 1988), Grant Jennings (April 26, 1988) and Trent Whitfield (April 17, 2000) in achieving that distinction. 

Wilson, 19, is the fifth teenager ever to suit up for the Capitals in the Stanley Cup playoffs and the first in 27 years. He follows Scott Stevens (18 in 1983), Bobby Carpenter (19 in 1983), Kevin Hatcher (18 in 1985) and Yvon Corriveau (19 in 1986).

ONE GOAL AFFAIRS

The Capitals have played 19- playoff games vs. the Boston Bruins and New York Ranger during the last two years. The margin of victory in 19 games has been 21 goals. The Capitals and Bruins became the first two teams in NHL history to play a seven game playoff series in which every game was decided by one goal. Four of the five games in the Caps-Rangers series have been decided by just one goal. The Caps won Game 1, 3-1, their first two-goal playoff victory since they beat the New York Rangers 3-1 on April 23, 2011. That victory eliminated the Rangers from the 2011Stanley Cup Playoffs.

In all, the Capitals and Rangers have played 12 playoff games over the past two seasons with only two games being decided by more than one goal. Ironically, both were Game 1’s and both were 3-1 wins by each team.

During the past two years, the Capitals have been involved in eight overtime playoff games. Included in that is one double overtime affair as well as one triple overtime affair. The Capitals are 4-4 in those overtime games.

GAME 5 STATS OF NOTES:  (COURTEOUSY OF CAPITALS.NHL.COM)

Tonight’s tilt was the fourth straight game in the series in which the two clubs headed into the third period tied on the scoreboard … Green led the Capitals with 29:16 in ice time … Alzner paced Washington with 4:15 in shorthanded ice time, and Hendricks led Caps forwards with 3:29 worth of penalty-killing duty … Ovechkin led the Caps with nine shots on net and 15 shot attempts … Jason Chimera led the Caps with seven hits … Hendricks led the Caps with seven blocked shots … Girardi led New York with 29:13 in ice time … Hagelin paced the Rangers with five shots on goal … Girardi was charged with six giveaways … Callahan led the Rangers with six hits … McDonagh led the Rangers with six blocked shots.

The Goalies:

BRADEN HOLTBY: 3-2 149 SHOTS FACED, 10 GOALS ALLOWED. 1.91 GAA AND A .933 SAVE PERCENTAGE, 1 SHUTOUT.

Henrik Lundqvist: 2-3 164 SHOTS FACED: 12 GOALS ALLOWED 2.12 GAA .928 SAVE PERCENTAGE