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Zac Boyer will provide you with the latest updates from the Washington Nationals, the Washington Capitals, the Washington Wizards and D.C. United on this blog when in attendance. Follow Zac on Twitter (@ZacBoyer) for the latest updates.

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Mike Ribeiro, Martin Erat Relish Return To Playoffs

Mike Ribeiro and Martin Erat have played in the postseason before, but the opportunity to so with the Capitals this season is giving them excitement to begin this playoff run.

BY ZAC BOYER

ARLINGTON — Mike Ribeiro had played in the postseason in each of his first five years of organized hockey, so when the Montreal Canadiens didn’t qualify for the playoffs in the spring of 2003, his disappointment was fleeting.

“The first time you don’t make the playoffs, you’re kind of happy,” Ribeiro said. “You have a longer summer.”

After years of tracking other teams’ progress from home, Ribeiro has grown tired of the time away from the ice. On Thursday, when the Washington Capitals host the New York Rangers in the opener of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series, Ribeiro will play in his first playoff game since he was in Dallas in 2008.

“I’m just anxious to go and play and bring some emotions up,” Ribeiro said.

The Capitals have made the playoffs each of the last six seasons, but for veterans like Ribeiro and Martin Erat, extending the season hasn’t been taken for granted.

In fact, Erat, traded from Nashville at the deadline on April 3, specifically cited a chance at playing for the Stanley Cup as a reason why he waived his no-movement clause. The Predators had qualified for the playoffs in seven of Erat’s eight seasons, but they finished 14th in the Western Conference in this lockout-shortened season.

“We made the first step and now it’s go forward from that and move on,” Erat said.

The two second-line forwards have played an important role in the Capitals’ strong regular-season finish. Erat had a goal and two assists in only nine games — he missed four because of an undisclosed left leg injury — but has been a deft puck-handler in the offensive zone. Ribeiro has routinely created opportunities for his linemates; his 36 assists rank second on the team to Nicklas Backstrom and fifth in the league.

“He’s always been a good well-rounded player,” said Troy Brouwer, the right wing on Ribeiro’s line. “Maybe not a lot of speed out there, but he always seems to be in the right spot, he works hard down low and is good defensively. His patience and his offense stand out.”

For all Ribeiro’s playoff experience — he’s played 42 games—he hasn’t had the most individual success. He has just 17 points off five goals, three with Dallas in his most recent appearance, and 14 assists.

The production by Washington’s second line will be of great importance in the upcoming series. The Rangers figure to counter the top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson with physical defensemen Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, potentially leaving the scoring to the rest of the team.

A prolonged playoff run could also be beneficial to Ribeiro in another way. The impending free agent could earn a more enticing contract offer with a strong performance in the postseason; he’s seeking a four- or five-year deal.

“Your focus changes, and how you prepare yourself changes because the games are different,” Ribeiro said. “But at the same time, you don’t want to over-change what you do normally. You want to stick with what you do best and just focus better. I think it’s more mental than anything else.”

Permalink: http://news.fredericksburg.com/dcsports/2013/05/01/pro-hockey-new-caps-relish-trip-to-playoffs/