When the paths of two teams are as interwoven as the last two decades for the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals, it's difficult to ignore the sentiment that destiny is controlled by a group of "hockey Gods," perched up high and fully committed to delivering a passionate, icy script.
Despite a multitude of previous contests, the clubs developed a rivalry resulting from constant playoff feuds over the course of a decade.
Starting in the early 1990s, the Pittsburgh Penguins had become a powerhouse, ousting nearly every opponent faced in the postseason over a five-year span. Fresh off of a bitter hatred of the New York Islanders, who ended dreams in DC throughout the '80s, the Capitals' misfortune stumbled upon another potential dynasty in the making.
The summation of the early '90s for the Capitals, whose rosters were capable of deep playoff runs, was simple:
Wrong place. Wrong time.
While Washington did upset the favored Penguins during the 1994 playoffs, it exited late April hockey three times in four postseason meetings against Pittsburgh despite two-game edges in all three affairs.
Maybe it was out of absolution for Dale Hunter's untimely hit of Pierre Turgeon after a playoff game-winner years earlier, those aforementioned "hockey Gods" seemed more than willing to let Lemieux and company exact vengeance in the form of Capitals punishment.
After all, following these traumatic upsets, one of the Caps' weaker playoff rosters finally reached the Stanley Cup Finals, losing to a superior Red Wings squad in 1998.
It only seemed weaker, as the retooled Capitals would feature Adam Oates, Joe Juneau, Peter Bondra and Olaf Kolzig. The loaded roster was talented enough to continually return to the summit from which they'd fallen to Detroit, continuously winning their division. Everything was in place except for one glaring issue:
Fate would continue to match them up against the Penguins.
Apparently, they hadn't been fully absolved, losing from atop the Eastern Conference to 2000's depleted Penguins team and the 2001 "Return of Mario" Pens.
Ironically, Washington would acquire the Penguins' best player, and Pittsburgh would fall from the sky like the penguins (flightless birds) of reality.
Yet, even Jaromir Jagr couldn't get them over the top as the Caps missed the playoffs in his first season and never reached the Easter Conference finals in his tenure.
Both squads reached rock bottom before finally rising back from the ashes. Both teams saw their phoenix rise, catalyzed by two stellar draft selections.
When the Penguins drafted Sidney Crosby and the Capitals chose Alexander Ovechkin, the drafts ultimately assured that both franchises would continue to live out eerie parallels. In fact, the rivalry would only intensify, as the two greatest players in the world would be compared, in addition to the teams themselves.
Crosby versus Ovechkin certainly hasn't disappointed hockey fans, culminating in a 2009 quarterfinals series that includes comebacks, hat tricks, overtimes and fireworks galore.
Perhaps the best is yet to come!
A fiery rivalry recognized for dominance on one side and frustration on the other, the Pens-Caps series is one filled with memorable moments fueled by passion.
These are the top 10 Capitals versus Penguins moments!