In his first 10 NHL seasons Mike Ribeiro made it to the playoffs just four times.
Early in his career, as a member of the Canadiens, he was cool with that.
“The first time you don’t make the playoffs you’re kind of happy,” Ribeiro said. “You have a longer summer. But four times in a row now, that’s pretty long.”
Ribeiro has not played a Stanley Cup playoff game since Alex Ovechkin played his first. It came back in 2008 when Ribeiro put up 17 points [3 goals, 15 assists] in 18 games for the Dallas Stars.
Since then it’s been four straight Aprils on the golf course for the 33-year-old center.
“It’s fun,” Ribeiro said as he and the Capitals prepared for Thursday night’s playoff opener against the New York Rangers at Verizon Center. “It’s what you play for. The last few years [in Dallas] we got eliminated by like two points in the last game of the season and it’s crushing.
“I’m just happy to be back and bring some emotion to the game. It’s been a few years.”
For the first time since the dawn of the Ovechkin era the Capitals have a second line that is almost as dangerous as the first.
Ribeiro finished second on the Caps with 49 points [13 goals, 36 assists] while centering a line with right wing Troy Brouwer, who finished fourth with 33 points [19 goals, 14 assists] and left wing Marty Erat, who is starting to show why the Caps gave up top prospect Filip Forsberg for him at the trade deadline.
“Our line wants to help that top line and create confusion over who to put against us and which [defense] to put against Ovi,” Brouwer said.
Prior to Erat’s arrival, the Caps reportedly offered Riberio a three-year, $14 million contract extension that was rejected by the 11-year veteran, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
Would a productive playoff performance result in a bigger payday for Ribeiro?
“This is not the time for me to think about it,” he said. “My job is to play games and play well. Points-wise, I’m never worried. I’m always going to have points. It’s a matter of playing well defensively. If I have a bad game it’s because I’m not low enough in the defensive zone.”
That, of course, is a point that has been driven home by Capitals coach Adam Oates.
During his 20-year playing career, Oates recorded 156 points in 163 playoff games. Ribeiro has 25 points in 42 career playoff games.
How important to a player is the reputation he forges in the playoffs?
“I think it’s very important, and I think a player should want to be here,” said Oates, who mentioned Claude Lemieux as a rise-to-the-occasion playoff player. “Obviously, the Verizon Center will be rocking Thursday night and Madison Square Garden rocks. If you don’t want to be in that environment, well, shame on you because playoffs is a fantastic environment.”