Suddenly, The Capitals Are On The Right Side Of A Series Of Fortunate Events

The Penguins vs. Capitals blood feud makes for high-quality hockey theater each year. It's become one of the NHL's greatest modern rivalries and a rite of springtime in Pittsburgh and the nation's capital, even if history has overwhelmingly favored the yinzers.

By now, both sides know the score. 

Pittsburgh is the place the Capitals' Stanley Cup dreams frequently come to die a cruel, painful death, dating to their first postseason clash in 1991. The Pens are 9-1 all time in their playoff series — including 5-0 en route to each of the franchise's five Stanley Cups. A six-game victory in the first round of 1994 has been the only reprieve for tortured Caps fans in their three decades of head-to-head suffering.

Sporting News' Mike DeCourcy and David Steele have observed from both sides of the fence since the early days of this heated rivalry. Here's how our resident Penguins and Capitals supporters rank the memories they both dread and hold most dear from 1-10.

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2018 Eastern Conference semifinals

The Penguins struck first with Jake Guentzel's Game 1 winner, but Alex Ovechkin continues to show up (No. 8 now has 31 points in 23 career playoff games against his rival, including the Game 3 clincher) spotting the Capitals an early 2-1 series lead. But if there's one takeaway from this article, it's that no one in D.C. will find comfort until that fourth win is sealed. Tom Wilson's antics have overshadowed what has promises to be a compelling chapter 11th chapter in this story.

DeCourcy: How is this not all about Tom Wilson? Through the first 10 games of the playoffs, he’d knocked three players out of the game with shots to the “shoulder.” The most laughable aspect of this is that the NHL actually has a department called “Player Safety.” It should be called, “Keeping miscreants safe from responsibility for their actions.” I don’t understand why the office reacts to broken bones (Zach Aston-Reese’s jaw) and not potential concussions.

Rank: 9

Steele: Ohhh, Tom Wilson has taken this series over. It’s embarrassing that the league completely let him slide after that Game 2 cheap shot, which, of course, would have prevented the possibility of the Game 3 play. The notion among the Caps faithful is that this is why they got him, this is where he’s useful, this is where he’s most valuable. If they now lose this series, after the drama of winning Games 2 and 3 the way they did, Wilson will just join franchise lore as part of their postseason/Penguins curse. It’ll be well-deserved, though, and it won’t be a “curse.”

Rank: 6

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Game 7, 2017 Eastern Conference semifinals

The Capitals rallied back from a 3-1 series deficit, but couldn’t overcome that omnipresent sense of impending disaster. It seemed there was nothing they could do in Game 7 to shake the tension. A 2-0 Marc-Andre Fleury shutout confirmed everyone’s predictions and Washington dropped to 4-11 all time in Game 7s (and 0-4 vs. the Pens).

DeCourcy: The Fleury save he made against Ovechkin in 2009 was perhaps the greatest and most impactful play of his career. But the save that was most fun came with the Penguins holding a 1-0 lead with just under 4 minutes left in Game 7. Ovechkin got clear for a slapshot from between the circles, right where he likes and Fleury got the butt end of his stick over to cover the sliver of the net where the shot was headed; the puck deflected out of play. If that shot traveled anywhere else on the left side of the net, it would have tied the score. Fleury laughed and stroked the end of his stick. That was as close as the Caps came to beating him.

Rank: 4

Steele: Honestly, probably just because of the nature of the rivalry, I always think of that awful Sidney Crosby collision in Game 3. It stoked the rivalry fires, naturally, although it really was just a series of unfortunate events. But this is 100 percent true: once the Caps went down 3-1, nobody really believed anymore, even when they fought back to a Game 7. Even the shutout seemed inevitable, because fans have seen that before, too. It was also one of those series where Ovechkin caught tons of blame, even though that shot late in the game would’ve been a goal 99 percent of the time.

Rank: 5

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Game 6, 2016 Eastern Conference semifinals

The Capitals were a Presidents' Trophy-winning, 120-point juggernaut stripped down to their studs in the first four games as the Penguins opened a 3-1 series lead. Matt Murray stole Games 2 and 3 and the "HBK Line" made a name for itself. We saw three games decided in overtime, and none other than Nick Bonino played hero in Game 6, scoring the dagger that sealed the series.  

Bonino the goal! Bonino the goal! Bonino the goal! BONINO! Here are our favorite calls from the Game 6 OT tally.https://t.co/7cRddtVlLG

— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) May 12, 2016

DeCourcy: The most amazing thing about this series was the sequence of three consecutive delay-of-game penalties in the decisive Game 6. The Penguins were ahead 3-0 at one point, and still were up 3-2 when a series of errant clearances by Bonino, Chris Kunitz and Ian Cole led to two 5-on-3 power plays for the Caps. The second of those led to the game-tying goal by John Carlson. That I’d never seen anything like that was less profound than all the coaches and players, with lifetimes in the game, saying the same.

I could say that just made the victory more dramatic, but Bonino’s goal was not the stuff of legend. He simply picked up the puck, which had bounced off Braden Holtby’s pad and stopped in the crease, and scooped it in the net. The celebration was incredible, though.

Rank: 3

Steele: My most vivid memory of that series was Game 4, which seemed like the perfect microcosm of the rivalry and of the Caps’ postseason history. Brooks Orpik had gotten suspended for three games for a Game 2 hit, and the usual resulting chippiness continued in Game 4. The Caps made a mountain of terrible decisions in their end all night, still made it to overtime, then made a brutally bad turnover right in front of the goal to give up the game-winner early in OT. Once again, with the Penguins up 3-1, their fate seemed sealed. The way Game 6 unfolded, then how they lost (again) in overtime … it’s getting exhausting using “inevitable” when talking about this, but it keeps fitting.

Rank: 2

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Game 7, 2009 Eastern Conference semifinals

Marc-Andre Fleury stoned Alex Ovechkin on a breakaway three minutes into Game 7, leaving Caps fans to wonder what might be different had No. 8 sent the Verizon Center into a frenzy. Instead, Sidney Crosby scored the game’s first goal and the Penguins went on to win 6-2.

DeCourcy: Ovechkin was all alone on that shot. There was no defensive pressure. Fleury almost seemed to relish the challenge, coming out of his crease a bit to shrink Ovechkin’s perception of the target and and then backing up to cover the goal as the puck approached. Ovechkin opted for placement instead of power, and that might have been the difference, because Fleury read his intent perfectly and plucked that shot right out of the air with his glove. It was a rout after that.

Rank: 1

Steele: A perfect case of deflated expectations. The Ovechkin breakaway was a tremendous opportunity, but it actually fed the optimism, kept it going. Who expected a blowout after that? As great as Fleury was in that game and that series, it felt like there would be more chances. Instead, it was never really close after that.

Rank: 3

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Game 6, 2001 Eastern Conference quarterfinals

Toward the end of the regular season, the Penguins seemed to seek out the Capitals as their preferred first-round opponent — a savvy strategy, it turned out. The Capitals tied Game 6 on a Calle Johansson goal with under three minutes in regulation, this close to forcing overtime and a possible Game 7. But Martin Straka had other ideas in the extra period. He pick-pocketed Sergei Gonchar at the Capitals' blue line and beat Olaf Kolzig on a breakaway for the series-clinching goal.

DeCourcy: This was one of the last great moments for the Penguins before the franchise nearly died. Mario Lemieux had retired a few years earlier because of injury. Jaromir Jagr talked his way out of town, partly with his infamous “dying alive” comment — and was traded to the Caps, of all teams, following the season. Honestly, that team’s trip to the Eastern Conference finals remains one of the least joyful sports successes the city has experienced, along with the dismal 2013 ECF loss to the Bruins, the 1992 “Sid Bream” NLCS loss to Atlanta and the 2001 AFC Championship loss to the Patriots.

Rank: 7

Steele: There’s a certain perception about a team that develops after it seems like it’s gotten over the hump, in a sense, but not made it all the way there yet. There was so much vindication after they finally broke through to get to the finals in ‘98, and George McPhee and Ron Wilson were still in charge. Their window seemed open. They never capitalized on it, and it felt like such a wasted opportunity. The Jagr deal is still such a weird chapter in team history. The framework of a contender was still there, but Jagr didn’t put them over the top, at all. To lose to the Penguins without Mario and without Jagr, it felt like nothing had changed with their playoff history after all.

Rank: 7

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Game 4, 1996 Eastern Conference quarterfinals

The Capitals went up 2-0 in this series, but the Penguins took Game 3 to set up one of the most memorable goals in their history a game later. In Game 4, Lemieux was ejected at for instigating a fight with the Caps up 2-1 in the second period; Ken Wregget stuffed Joe Juneau on an overtime penalty shot; and Petr Nedved finally ended the marathon in a fourth overtime. Pittsburgh won Games 5 and 6 handily to close out the series.

DeCourcy: The night of that overtime game, I had been visiting Pittsburgh to see family and was on my way back to Memphis, where I was working for the Commercial Appeal newspaper. I watched part of the game in the Pittsburgh airport before boarding the plane, probably at least the first period. When I landed in Atlanta, they were into the third period. When I landed in Memphis, they were deep into overtime. The game wasn’t on ESPN, and there was no Twitter. I tried to check some of my preferred sports bars in Memphis to see if I could watch the game on whatever channel was carrying it; probably KBL, the Pittsburgh regional channel then. No one had it on. So I went home and sat on my living room couch, waiting for word that the game was over. It was 1:22 a.m. Central time. I still wish I’d seen it.

Rank: 6

Steele: Yeah, the masters of losing multiple overtime games. I was working at the San Francisco Chronicle then, still covering the NBA, and the day for me wrapped up by watching late NBA playoff games and constantly seeing score updates on the Caps. It kept going, and going, and going, and finally I crashed sometime around 11 Pacific time. When I found out the next morning they’d lost, of course the first thought I had was of Easter 1987, right after I got out of college, when I had been home from Florida, had hung in to watch the playoff game against the Islanders until I couldn’t stay awake anymore … and, again, waking up the next morning to find out they’d lost in four overtimes.

Rank: 4

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Game 5, 1995 Eastern Conference quarterfinals

Without Lemieux, the Penguins trailed 3-1 in the series before clawing back. Luc Robitaille’s Game 5 overtime winner serves as the seminal moment of his brief stop in Pittsburgh. The Pens went on to blowouts in Games 6 and 7, outscoring the Capitals 10-1 to close out the series

DeCourcy: It wasn’t much of a season because of the lockout, but more so because Lemieux took a leave of absence for the year to recover from treatments for Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Beating the Caps, again, was perhaps the only high point.

Rank: 8

Steele: They didn’t really have a history of losing 3-1 leads at the time. The Islanders series was, I’m pretty sure, the first one. There have been an excruciating number of them since then. This was one of the early ones, though, and one of the early examples of them not showing up in Game 7. But it wasn’t something that was handcuffed to their postseason reputation … yet.

Rank: 8

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Game 6, 1994 Eastern Conference quarterfinals

The Capitals once beat the Penguins in the playoffs. No, really, it happened. Fourteen years ago, with Pittsburgh in its first season post-Scotty Bowman, Washington finally sealed the deal against its heavily favored nemesis. Even Capitals coach Jim Schoenfeld, an ESPN analyst prior to taking the coaching job in Washington, predicted the Penguins would win the Stanley Cup before the season began. But the Caps opened with three quick goals and put the clamps down in Game 6, which featured a combined 86 penalty minutes.

DeCourcy: I have no recollection of this happening.

Rank: 10

Steele: Talk about strange. Terry Murray had been one of the most successful and most popular Caps coaches ever, right along with his brother Bryan. David Poile (don’t get me started; he’s still winning in Nashville all these years later) fired him early in the year, and brings on the “Have another donut” guy, who wasn’t even coaching at the time. The Caps were starting to feel a lot like the then-Bullets. But they got back on track and actually beat Mario and the Penguins. And with all the great players and coaches and situations they’ve had over the decades, that’s still the only time they’ve beaten that franchise.

Rank: 1

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Game 7, 1992 Patrick Division semifinals

After Peter Bondra and Dino Ciccarelli haunted Tom Barrasso for four games to help the Capitals take a 3-1 series lead, Penguins coach Scotty Bowman famously switched to a trap for Game 5 in a last-ditch effort to slow things down. It did the trick. Pittsburgh reeled off three straight wins, including on the road in Game 7, beginning their run of 15 wins in 17 games to capture the Stanley cup. The series is probably best remembered for Lemieux’s five-point game in Game 6 at the Igloo, but this would serve as the first of many Game 7s to fall in the Pens’ favor.

DeCourcy: After everything that had built up to that point, the Penguins rallying from two games down, I missed Game 7. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the Pittsburgh Press was in its final weeks of publishing, so maybe it doesn’t bother me too much that I was assigned to cover a fight of McKeesport middleweight Ralph “Tiger” Jones. It was only the sixth fight of his pro career, but I thought he had promise. He wound up fighting five years later for the WBA title. We got updates on the Penguins game by word of mouth. No one seemed surprised when the news buzzed through the crowd that they’d won, 3-1.

Rank: 5

Steele: It’s funny to see the old division name brought back. These early playoff series blend together, and are still memorable mostly because the Caps had established much-harsher rivalries with the other division teams, like the Flyers, Islanders and Rangers. I was following them from somewhat afar, from the New York area while covering the NBA. Even then, not getting out of the first round was incredibly aggravating. They were too good to be constantly get eliminated that early.

Rank: 9

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Game 2, 1991 Patrick Division semifinals

The series that started it all, both in a literal sense (they’d never intersected in the playoffs despite competing in the same division since the Capitals joined the NHL in 1974) and in the way it set the table for next 30 years of the Penguins ripping the cloth out from under the Capitals’ Stanley Cup dinner party. Following script, Washington won Game 1. Pittsburgh then won the next four games, precipitated by Kevin Stevens’ overtime winner in Game 2.

DeCourcy: That was an incredibly talented team. There were seven Hall of Famers on the roster: Lemieux, Ron Francis, Paul Coffey, Larry Murphy, Mark Recchi, Joey Mullen and Bryan Trottier. But this franchise had never won anything. Anything. They’d ended the year only eight games over .500. But they could score. There was no reason to believe this was the start of such an incredible run for the franchise -— against the rest of the league, sure, but in particular the Caps.

Rank: 2

Steele: The Caps had actually gone deeper into the playoff the year before than they ever had, all the way to the conference final. John Druce had had the all-time fluky goal-scoring runs in playoff history that year. It felt like lightning in a bottle, that after seemingly staying on a treadmill since the mid-80s, they might get off of it. They had Rod Langway, Dino Cicarrelli, Dale Hunter, Kevin Hatcher, Scott Stevens, a talented bunch. The Penguins were definitely going to win something eventually. It wasn’t a soul-crushing loss any more than the previous ones to other rivals had been. Little did anyone know what was to come.

Rank: 10

Source : http://www.sportingnews.com/us/nhl/news/nhl-playoffs-penguins-capitals-rivalry-history-best-worst-moments-crosby-ovechkin-lemieux/6hq4zon4tscq1xdptrzcevddh

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