All is Right in the Hockey World With Penguins-Capitals Division Rivalry Renewed

Robert Wood@@bleachRWreachrCorrespondent INovember 20, 2013

PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 19:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins tries to get past the defense of Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals on March 19, 2013 at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)
Joe Sargent/Getty Images

NHL realignment was far from perfect. 

There are many things to take issue with, but what is your beef with realignment? 

I'm glad you asked. A divisional rivalry of historic proportions was eliminated as the Detroit Red Wings are no longer playing in the same division as the Chicago Blackhawks. Both teams are members of the Original Six. 

The hockey world turned upside down, no doubt. 

Exactly. As hockey fans, we should be able to set our clocks to certain things: 

  1. The goal is the true red-light district. 
  2. Gary Bettman gets booed in public.
  3. Archrivals play in the same division. 

You're preaching to the choir, my friend. 

I didn't realize I had an audience. 

I let myself in. 

Please. Make yourself at home. 

Thanks. I will. 

Anyways...Altering, modifying or removing these and other hockey truths would permanently damage the sport's carefully constructed environment. 

I have to agree with you on that one. Hockey was built on specific founding principles. Damaging any of those building blocks would cause the sport to collapse. 


Thankfully, another realignment decision ensures that all is right in the hockey world. 

What decision is that? 

The Washington Capitals are once again playing in the same division as the Pittsburgh Penguins, their bitter rivals. 

It is kind of weird to think of them playing in separate divisions. How long has it been? 

PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 01:  Sidney Crosby (R) #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins shakes hands with Alex Ovechkin (L) #8 of the Washington Capitals prior to the 2011 NHL Bridgestone Winter Classic at Heinz Field on January 1, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Dave Sandford/Getty Images

Washington and Pittsburgh have not been division rivals since the 1997-98 season. Believe it or not, Pittsburgh and Washington only played in the same division for 16 seasons prior to 2013-14, the Capitals' 39th season in the NHL.  

Wow, that is hard to believe. So in other words, the hockey world has been upside down for some time now. 

You hit the nail on the head. The Capitals and Penguins need to be division rivals. For hockey's sake. 

That seems a little extreme. Why is it so important for the Capitals and Penguins to play in the same division?  

Because for the Capitals, this is the rivalry. 

Wait. That can't be. The Penguins aren't even the Capitals' oldest rival. 

Correct. That distinction belongs to the New York Islanders, who played the Capitals in each of the franchise's first five trips to the playoffs, starting in 1982-83. Included in this streak was one of the most painful moments in franchise history. The 1987 Patrick Division semifinals ended with a four-overtime classic that New York won at the Capital Centre to secure the series. That is still the longest Game 7 in NHL history, and it will forever be known as the "Easter Epic," according to The Hockey News

The Caps' rivalry with the Isles was given new life with the events of the 1993 Patrick Division semifinals. Capitals captain Dale Hunter blindsided Islanders captain Pierre Turgeon shortly after Turgeon converted Hunter's turnover into the series-clinching goal in Game 6. Hunter was suspended for 21 games, the longest suspension in NHL history at the time, according to

Hunter was a dirty player. 

Let me guess: You're an Islanders fan? 

No. Penguins fan. 

Oh really? Then you know a thing or two about dirty players, between Ulf Samuelsson and Matt Cooke

So, what happened next between the Capitals and Islanders? 

That's what I thought. 

As you were saying, the days of the Capitals-Islanders rivalry are long gone, as they have not met in the playoffs since 1993. On top of that, the Islanders' inability to ice a good hockey team for most of the last decade has rendered the rivalry irrelevant. 

You definitely know your hockey. 

I try. By the way, the Penguins aren't the Capitals' longest-running rival, either. 

Correct again. That distinction belongs to the Philadelphia Flyers. In the 1984 Stanley Cup playoffs, the Capitals authored their first postseason series victory against the Flyers.

The rivalry was cemented four years later when the Capitals defeated the defending Eastern Conference champions in Game 7 of the 1988 Patrick Division semifinals, only one year after the Easter Epic. After potting the game-winner past Flyers netminder Ron Hextall in overtime, Dale Hunter declared that “we showed that we’re not chokers,” according to The Washington Post

The Caps are still chokers. 

Watch it. 

The truth hurts. 

So do interruptions. 

My bad. 

Since 1988, the Caps and Flyers have only met once in the playoffs, in the 2008 Eastern Conference quarterfinals. The animosity has been primarily based upon regular-season contests. Games like the one just a few weeks ago on Nov. 1 threaten to push the Flyers to the top of the Capitals' list of most heated rivalries

But will the Flyers ever be the Capitals' fiercest rival? 

Never. The Penguins are the Capitals' fiercest rival. Period. End of story. 

OK, OK. I get the point. 

You asked the question. 

That I did. Explain yourself already. 

Similar to the rivalries with the Islanders and Flyers, the hatred between the Capitals and Penguins was forged in the cauldron of the Stanley Cup playoffs. 

Here are the gory postseason details for each of the Capitals' playoff opponents of at least three series, starting in chronological order and based on the first series against that particular opponent: 

Capitals' Playoff History with Most Frequent Oponents

Domination. Complete and total domination.  

It is what it is. 

That table doesn't mention that one of those games Washington lost to Pittsburgh ended 79:15 into overtime or that the game still ranks as the fifth-longest overtime game in NHL history, according to Plus, that game was the Penguins' second of four straight victories in the series, as they beat the Capitals in the 1996 Eastern Conference quarterfinals after trailing 2-0. 

You did your research. 

I go to great lengths to remind Caps fans of their team's postseason futility against the Pens. 

But that's exactly why the new divisional realignment may be perfect after all. The Capitals and Penguins are much more likely to meet in the playoffs under the new format

Why would you want to see that? The Penguins will torment the Capitals yet again. 

I was thinking that the Capitals would exorcise their postseason demons by finally defeating the Penguins. At long last, the Caps would remove the thorn in their side, the bur in their saddle, the knife in their heart. 

We shall see. 

Yes, we shall.

Plus, it would mean another installment of Crosby versus Ovechkin in the playoffs. 

That would be sweet. "The Next One" versus "The Gifted Goon."

Matt Hendricks no longer plays for the Capitals. 

Very funny. Maybe Ovechkin can wish Crosby well during the post-series handshake as the Pens storm toward another Stanley Cup, just like he did the last time they met. 

Maybe Crosby can supervise the Verizon Center crew as they sweep the hats off the ice after another playoff hat trick from the Great Eight. 

They were taking a really long time. 


But before any of those festivities can commence, these two foes will square off against each other four times this season and five times every fourth season, according to In the previous divisional alignment, Washington and Pittsburgh only played each other three times every season as non-divisional opponents.  

Familiarity breeds contempt. 

Well said.

And now the Pens and Caps are first and second in the Metropolitan Division standings, respectively. That adds some intensity to the rivalry, as if it needed any additional intensity. 

Yes, sir. Their first head-to-head matchup is Wednesday at Verizon Center, as the weekly edition of Wednesday Night Rivalry on NBCSports

Which means the game will be broadcast by The Voice of The Penguins, Pierre McGuire. 

He just appreciates good hockey. Besides, he won two Stanley Cups as part of the Penguins organization. 

So he's a homer? 

No. He simply prefers a class act to the class clown. 

Whatever. You're lucky we're not discussing this in person. Otherwise, we'd be dropping gloves. 

Yeah, I bet. 

Who are you, anyways? And where are you? 

Just know that I'm a Penguins fan, and I'm in your head. 

Yes you are. And yes you are. 


Note: All statistics updated through Nov. 19 courtesy of unless noted otherwise. 


    Was Columbus' travel a factor in the Caps' series comeback?

    Washington Capitals logo
    Washington Capitals

    Was Columbus' travel a factor in the Caps' series comeback?

    NBC Sports Washington
    via NBC Sports Washington

    Washington Capitals Complete Comeback Against Columbus Blue Jackets in Game Six

    Washington Capitals logo
    Washington Capitals

    Washington Capitals Complete Comeback Against Columbus Blue Jackets in Game Six

    Nic Hendrickson, Managing Editor
    via Last Word on Hockey

    Capitals to face Penguins in NHL Playoffs for third consecutive year

    Washington Capitals logo
    Washington Capitals

    Capitals to face Penguins in NHL Playoffs for third consecutive year

    NBC Sports Washington
    via NBC Sports Washington

    Ovechkin powers Capitals to another second-round series vs. Penguins

    Washington Capitals logo
    Washington Capitals

    Ovechkin powers Capitals to another second-round series vs. Penguins

    Adam Gretz
    via ProHockeyTalk