For the Washington Capitals and their fans, the Pittsburgh Penguins represent a house of horrors.
The Pens have been so devastating to the fortunes of the Caps over the years—and have been the perpetrators of so many terrible moments in franchise history—that it is impossible to really isolate just one moment as being the worst of them all.
Instead, you can pretty much merge all of the various disasters together and call the collected whole the No. 1 moment you really don't want to mention to Caps fans.
Where to begin?
It was actually back in 1991 when the two teams would meet in the playoffs for the first time. The Pens would easily dispatch the Caps in the Eastern Conference Semifinals in five games en route to their first Stanley Cup.
Back then, the Penguins had superstars on their team named Mario Lemieux, Ron Francis, Jaromir Jagr and Ulf Samuelsson. The Penguins would repeat as champions in 1992.
To get there, the Pens would again defeat the Caps in the playoffs, but this time, they would rally from a 3-1 series deficit to break the hearts of Caps fans everywhere.
The Caps had no shortage of talent back in those days either, as they had players like Dino Ciccarelli, Mike Ridley and Kevin Hatcher leading the way. But when the Pens capped off that tremendous rally in the 1992 playoffs, the seeds of great heartbreak for the Caps and their fans were truly planted.
The teams have met in the playoffs a stunning eight times over the years. Even more surprising is the fact that the Penguins have won the series seven of eight times. Twice, they have overcome a 3-1 series deficit, and twice more, they were able to climb out of a 2-0 series hole.
In 1995 and 1996 in particular, the Pens absolutely ripped the hearts out of the chest of Caps fans everywhere.
The Caps and Pens squared off in the opening round of the 1995 playoffs. The Caps only playoff series win over the Pens happened a year earlier.
Like the previous year, the teams split the first two games in Pittsburgh. Like the previous season, the Caps then went on to win the next two games in D.C., both of them 6-2 thrashings. Just like the season before, the Pens would win Game 5 in Pittsburgh to force a Game 6 in Washington.
But this time around, the Pens would absolutely crush the Caps, 7-1, in Game 6. Jagr, Luc Robitaille and Tomas Sandstrom each scored two goals, and the momentum of the series was squarely with Pittsburgh.
In Game 7, Ken Wregget would stop 33 shots, and for the second time in three years, the Penguins rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to defeat the Caps. The defeat was almost mind-numbing for the Caps, especially since the Pens did not have the services of Lemieux for the series.
The teams would lock up again in the first round of the 1996 playoffs. Once again, the series would begin in Pittsburgh. This time, though, the Caps would win the first two games in the Steel City. The Penguins would prevail in D.C. in Game 3, and this set the stage for one of the greatest games in NHL playoff history.
Game 4 of the 1996 Caps vs. Penguins series was an epic in every sense of the word. It was as tense a hockey game as you can possibly imagine. But it was all about Petr Nedved. Nedved scored to tie the game up, and then things got interesting. Wregget stopped Joe Juneau on a penalty shot in OT and set the stage for more drama later on.
At the 19:15 mark of the fourth overtime, Nedved would strike again, ending the fifth-longest overtime game in NHL playoff history and evening the series up.
That's right folks, a second four-overtime game involving the Capitals.
Game 5 would not be remembered so much for the Pens 4-1 win but for the series of brawls at the end of the game that saw the Pens Alek Stojanov leave bloodied and saw the coaches for both teams nearly engage in a brawl of their own.
In Game 6, goals from Jagr, Francis and Lemieux, who had returned to the Pens lineup, sealed the deal, and the Pens had, once again, rallied from two games down in the series to defeat the Caps.
Feeling ill yet Caps' fans?
Unfortunately, we are not quite done yet.
The 2009 Eastern Conference Semifinals between the Penguins and Capitals remains one of the greatest playoff series in NHL history. But just as in years past, the Caps dominated early in the series, but could not close the deal.
Ever since they were drafted No. 1 overall in consecutive seasons, Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby were on a collision course. They were the faces of the NHL, the present NHL in the wake of the recovery from the 2004-2005 lockout and the future of the league.
With the NHL surging in popularity, all it was going to take was a matchup between the league's marquee players to allow the NHL to reach all new heights.
In the 2009 playoffs, the Caps rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to upend the New York Rangers, and when the Carolina Hurricanes
scored two goals in the final 90 seconds to beat the New Jersey Devils
in Game 7, one of the most anticipated playoff series in NHL history was finally a done deal. The two teams would not disappoint.
Five of the first six games were decided by just one goal. Three of the games went into overtime. The highlight of all of this was Game 2 where Ovechkin and Crosby each scored hat tricks. The Caps would prevail, 4-3, to take a 2-0 series lead, and, in an unsettling way, things felt like the '90s all over again.
When the Pens won Game 3 in overtime, and then won Game 4 by the score of 5-3, fans everywhere had to feel like they had just jumped into a flying Delorean and had gone back to 1995. The Pens would win Game 5 in overtime and head home to, presumably, put the series away.
But Dave Steckel would score in overtime of Game 6, and, suddenly, the Caps had the momentum heading home for what promised to be one of the all-time great Game 7s in NHL history.
It never worked out that way, though. Marc-Andre Fleury stoned Ovechkin on a breakaway attempt early in Game 7, and goals by Crosby and Craig Adams—just eight seconds apart in the first period—gave the Pens a lead they would not relinquish.
The Penguins would win Game 7 by the final count of 6-2, and, yet again, the Pens got the best of the Caps in a playoff series. Pittsburgh would go on to win its first Stanley Cup since 1992. The Caps have never quite been the same.
The teams have not met in the playoffs again since the epic 2009 Eastern Conference Semifinals, but they are both divisional rivals now in the new Metropolitan division.
Whether the Caps can exercise any of these demons in the years to come remains to be seen.
For now, though, as far as the Pittsburgh Penguins are concerned, silence is golden.