After blowing a 2-0 series lead with a pair of losses in New York, the Washington Capitals were taking on water early in their crucial game Friday night in Washington. Badly needing to corral a series that was slipping away from them, they allowed a goal in the first minute and were getting outplayed at home in a game the Capitals desperately needed to have to avoid the tough task of beating the same team twice in back-to-back nights to advance.
Having seen the Rangers turn their desperation in Game 3 into a good performance in Game 4 -- yielding a square series -- the Capitals were flat-footed at the outset, a continuation of Game 4's shifting tide.
But after the first intermission, Washington finally put on display some desperation of their own, and were able to overcome a terrific performance by Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist to take a 3-2 series lead over New York thanks to a solid final two-and-a-half periods, culminating in Mike Ribeiro's overtime goal at the 9:24 mark.
The win was Washington's second overtime goal of the series, and certainly was a game the Capitals had to have with the Rangers playing well on home ice.
After coming out flat in the first period, the Capitals outshot the Rangers 27-15 over the game's last 50 minutes. The turning point in Game 5 seemed to come on Ribeiro drawing an ill-advised slashing penalty by Brian Boyle after an exchange in front of the Rangers cage. Just 11 seconds in to the extra-man advantage, the Capitals had erased the one-goal deficit thanks to some quick puck movement and Joel Ward being in the right spot. And, in the process, they finally got the momentum they had lost somewhere in midtown Manhattan Monday night.
"It's a dumb penalty and you don't kill that off, Rangers coach John Tortorella told reporters afterwards. "He's a guy that's playing well but it's a dumb penalty."
Washington dominated a majority of the remainder of the contest, with the Rangers putting some brief flurries together - most notably early in overtime - but the Capitals kept pressing the Rangers.
"They scored on a power play but for our team it did go downhill [after the first period]," Tortorella said. "We had a couple chances in overtime, third period we didn't have much; that's the way it worked out."
Eventually, Lundqvist finally was beaten when a Karl Alzner shot was deflected by Troy Brouwer over to Ribeiro - in nearly the exact same spot he drew the slashing minor - who beat the fallen Rangers goaltender for the winner. The goal marked a big momentum shift in the series after New York had wrested control of it after Mike Green had put them in a 2-0 hole six days ago in the same spot.
"I felt good right away," Ribeiro said. "Last game I had a bad game in the 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."
The win was critical for Washington to bounce back since the Rangers have been playing terrific hockey high above the streets of Manhattan, winning eight straight dating back to the regular-season in front of their home fans. Washington also has lost four straight playoff games at Madison Square Garden, dating back to their Game 5 collapse in 2012 last season.
Certainly, the scheduling also gives the series a weird twist, with Game 6 and a potential Game 7 a potential 27 hours apart. The quick turn-around makes it a bit more difficult win back-to-back games on back-to-back nights, so certainly the chance to close out the series is critical.
"We talked about trying to have a better start, which we didn't really have again tonight," Capitals coach Adam Oates told reporters. "Obviously it's going to be their barn, their building, their people. 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."
The teams' two top players also have been mostly absent the last few games, with Alex Ovechkin seemingly carrying the effects of an Anton Stralman hit early in Game 3, while Rick Nash was a bit too fancy with some chances in overtime and got bowled over deep in the Capitals end.
While Washington didn't win the series Friday night, they very likely kept themselves from losing it. With the momentum having shifted the Rangers' way up north, had they not finished strong Friday, the Caps may never have wrestled it back.