- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 11, 2013


Welcome to the NHL, Tom Wilson.

The 19-year-old, drafted in the first round last year by the Capitals, made his debut in the big time Friday night. In Game 5 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the Rangers. That was tied at two games apiece.

If he wasn’t wide-eyed during his 6:24 of uneventful ice time, he was afterward. He’s unbeaten as a Cap, as Washington posted a 2-1 victory in overtime on Mike Ribeiro’s first goal of the series.

“Unbelievable debut. Couldn’t have asked for anything better,” Wilson said. “Front row seat to an amazing game. The guys did a great job of finishing that off. This is such a great sport. Anybody can score at any time.”

The young man is wise beyond his years. Hockey, at least the playoff version, is the best spectator sport going. And, yes, we’d make the same declaration even if the Rangers had been the team to score in overtime.

It’s white-knuckle, grip your seat, don’t blink, don’t breath time. Don’t take the dog out if you’re watching at home, don’t think about using the restroom.

Winning in overtime is a joy that can’t be described, losing in such a fashion is the opposite.

But win or lose, it doesn’t get any better for the spectators.

“Live, I think it is the best game to come and watch it,” said Ribeiro, who jumped a few times after his goal “until I got tired of jumping. I got some water and that was it. I was happy it was over, excited. It was the right time, right moment. A lot of emotion. The building goes nuts and it is a great feeling.”

The past four games in this series have been one-goal jobs, two of them going to overtime (both won by the Caps). After winning the first two at home, Washington lost the next two in New York. Losing Friday night was not really an option for the Caps with the series shifting back to New York for Game Six on Sunday.

Caps coach Adam Oates talked before the game against his team’s starts, conceding he was worried about them. He might have been looking for a stick to shatter after his team gave up a goal 53 seconds in. The entire first period was an eerie flashback to January when the Caps’ season got off to such an awful start. Passes that just missed, everything just a bit out of synch. Washington was fortunate not to be down more than a goal.

From the second period on, the Caps more closely resembled the team that finished the season so strong. New York didn’t get its second shot on goal in the third period until less than two minutes remained. But a Joel Ward power-play goal in the second period was all the Caps could get past the Rangers’ brilliant Henrik Lundqvist.

If this went to the judge’s scorecard, the Caps win on a decision. It doesn’t. It goes to OT, where what happened beforehand doesn’t matter a lick. Outplayed the other team all night? Doesn’t matter. Get outplayed for one nanosecond and the puck goes in, you’re done.

“The way Henrik was playing, I was all set for a five- or six-period game,” Caps keeper Braden Holtby said.

Nope. After 9:24 of remarkably entertaining “bonus” hockey, Ribeiro’s goal sent Verizon Center into a tizzy.

“It was fun. It was fun for everybody, I think,” said Caps defenseman Karl Alzner, who along with Troy Brouwer was credited with an assist on Ribeiro’s goal. “It was entertaining. We’re not teams that usually play too wide-open, so we were all getting a little nervous there.”

That was the amazing thing about Friday’s overtime. It was some of the most wide-open hockey of the series. The instinct is to be cautious. The play was anything but, as each team had some good chances before Ribeiro drew it to a close.

“It was a lot of emotion out there. Everyone wants to win. You’re fighting for a goal there,” Caps center Nicklas Backstrom said. “That’s a tight game, there’s two good teams there. You have to stay calm, you just have to focus on what you’re doing out there. I think we did a good job of that.”

Holtby gave up four goals in each of the games in New York. He’s given up two in three games at Verizon. Whether he actually took a breath in overtime is debatable. He let out a lot of air when he realized Ribeiro had put it in the net.

The pace “kind of came out of nowhere,” Holtby said. “That wasn’t how the first three periods were played at all. It benefitted us, obviously.

“It’s fun to watch when both teams are battling that hard. This rink’s atmosphere really makes it 10 times better.”

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