Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals: Top 10 Moments of Their Rivalry
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!
Honorable Mentions: Coaches Duel and the Moose Fuels
By Game 5 of the 1996 playoffs, the Penguins were in the midst of completing another stunning turnaround on the Capitals, leading 4-1 in the pivotal game of a 2-2 series that saw Washington win both opening contests in the Steel City.
The video above illustrates a dispute regarding a fight between Alek Stojanov and Mark Tinordi. The coaches seem to disagree on whether the fight was intentionally set up, and the argument became a classic part of the playoff history between the franchises.
Additionally, it would be remiss to overlook the performance of Penguins goaltender Johan Hedberg in the opening round of the 2001 Stanley Cup playoffs. In a six-game Pens victory, the goalie allowed only 10 goals.
Game 3 was the youngster's greatest moment in Pittsburgh, as the crowd chanted "Moooose!" with every amazing save. His 34-save shutout in that contest gave the Pens a series lead they would not relinquish.
10. Capitals Rally To Start '95 Playoffs
The teams squared off for the fourth time in five playoffs, and the opening game of the 1996 series would become a Capitals classic.
The Penguins raced to a 4-1 lead, causing goalie Jim Carey to be pulled. His replacement was Olaf Kolzig.
While the future "Ollie the Goalie" shut the door on the Pens' All-Star offensive firepower, the Capitals continued to hack away at the large deficit.
A stunned Civic Arena crowd grew more and more silent, until Washington competed the comeback. The 5-4 win would prove to be a mere aberration, perhaps only serving to set the stage for a remarkable Penguins comeback of their own.
9. Overtime Goals Save Both Teams' Seasons
Sports are filled with cathartic moments.
The final strike of a baseball game. Fourth down in the fourth quarter.
Yet, perhaps no moment is quite as equal parts exhilarating and demoralizing, dependent on your allegiance, as an overtime playoff goal.
The Penguins ended the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs as NHL champions. This was after an epic playoff showdown with Washington.
There were three overtime goals in the series by Kris Letang, Evgeni Malkin and Dave Steckel. All of these scores proved necessary in a seven-game series, but only two were obviously necessary in the context of the events as they unfolded.
In Game 3 at Mellon Arena, the Pittsburgh Penguins trailed Alexander Ovechkin and the Capitals 2-0, setting the stage for a must-win affair for the Black 'n' Gold.
Washington proved game to the task, battling to stay in the contest and forcing a one-shot-takes-all overtime session on the road.
Unfortunately for the Caps, that one shot came off of the stick of Kris Letang, whose winner from the point brought Pittsburgh back into the series.
Two games later, the Capitals trailed the series, 3-2. They came back to the site of their first overtime defeat hoping for a better outcome.
Staving off elimination, Dave Steckel's overtime tally tied the series, forcing a decisive Game 7.
8. Straka Robs Gonchar
The return of Mario Lemieux highlighted the Penguins' 2000-01 campaign, a season that would inevitably end with another playoff series against the Capitals.
Headlines in Washington ought to have read: "Here We Go Again...Again...Again..."
Leading the series 3-2 on the shoulders of the "Moose," the Penguins and goalie Johan Hedberg entered overtime in the decisive sixth game at Mellon Arena.
Future Pens star Sergei Gonchar started up the ice, but got robbed of the puck at the blue line by Martin Straka, who did his damage by scoring to end the series.
7. Fleury's Big Save
In an epic 2009 collision between Eastern Conference heavyweights, superstars Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin saw their clubs to Game 7, where their teams would determine bragging rights in a very passionate rivalry.
Throughout the playoffs, Ovechkin had scored opportune goals for the Capitals, while Crosby emulated this tendency. The result was back-and-forth action that included the top two scorers of the postseason.
It seemed obvious that if the two stars were to decide the game, it would critical for the success of both to make an early statement.
If Ovie thought he had his statement stamped, it was Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury that had his notarized.
On a breakaway, the Capitals' young star delivered a sensational shot on the affectionately dubbed "Flower," but it was Fleury who got his pedal on the puck.
The amazing save served notice that the goalie was at the top of his game, and the Penguins rode the substantial momentum to an early 4-0 lead and 6-2 victory.
In a memorable display, the game's biggest stars came head to head in a personal contest that would highlight their rivalry to date.
In professional wrestling, the WWE meticulously scripts and choreographs its action in order to aid the process of delivering a promotional video for whatever upcoming match it is establishing.
In other sports, the contests are largely aided by statistics and raw anticipation.
The video above served as a pure "promo," preceding the 2009 playoff meeting between the two stars.
5. Penguins Stave Off Elimination with Comeback and Overtime Winner
The 1995 Penguins were fresh off a playoff series ended abruptly by the Islanders in a huge upset in 1993, and then by the Capitals the following year. Washington was back in Pittsburgh for a playoff rematch, and the Capitals were on the verge of proving the prior season as no fluke.
Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and company found themselves in a huge 3-1 hole, a cavernous margin after consecutive 6-2 defeats in Washington.
In Game 5, the Caps had every opportunity to end the series, and the likelihood of the Penguins staving off elimination seemed grim.
Washington had leads of 2-0, 3-2, 4-3 and 5-4.
Nevertheless, it couldn't deliver. Pittsburgh answered with a tying goal and won in overtime, 6-5.
The fortitude of the Pens continued to be on display, as Pittsburgh erased a 3-1 series deficit en route to victory.
It was the second time in three playoff meetings and four NHL seasons that Washington blew a 3-1 series lead to its mounting rival.
Yet, the Caps' penchant for blowing leads was not finished as...
4. Three Comebacks from Two-Game Deficits in Four Playoff Meetings
...they'd blow a two-game series lead for the third time in four meetings in 1996.
The Capitals would always clip the Penguins' wings, apparently thinking this was the answer. Yet, they failed to consider their approach relative to one important fact:
Penguins can't fly.
Apparently being held down isn't an issue, and like their flightless real-life counterparts, the Penguins got by without ever really taking off.
In 1992, the Penguins won the Stanley Cup, but not before fits in the first round of the playoffs. The Capitals took a 3-1 series lead, most notably marked by a 7-2 win in Game 4 at Pittsburgh. Yet, the Pens would win the final three games by at least two goals each, capturing the series.
Following a Capitals playoff victory over Pittsburgh in 1994, the '95 Pens staved off Game 5 elimination, trailing for nearly the entire game. This momentum must have made the rest of the series feel like house money, and playing with bought time, the Penguins out-scored the Capitals by a combined score of 10-1 in Games 6 and 7.
The trifecta came in 1996, where Washington erased a 4-1 deficit in Game 1, eventually winning both opening games in the Steel City. Ahead 2-0, the return home seemed the opportune scenario for the Caps to exorcise their playoff demons. Yet, they lost both home contests and the series, 4-2. The most intense game of the series was Game 4, highlighted later on the list.
3. Winter Classic
Few moments in sports are as beautiful, unique and illustrious as the NHL's Winter Classic on New Year's Day.
A modern tradition, the yearly event should become a timeless tradition, taking hockey back to its roots on outdoor ponds and frozen lakes. As snow falls and temperatures plummet, teams treat the event with great respect.
In fact, HBO dedicated its 24/7 series to the 2011 Winter Classic, pitting rivals Pittsburgh and Washington against each other. It was marketed as the outdoor clash between Ovechkin and Crosby.
While neither star got on the board, it was a memorable dynamic. The contest marked the first night game for the tradition, as well as the first "rain game."
The Capitals exacted a small degree of vengeance for two decades of frustration with a 3-1 victory, which would go down as a mere regular-season win.
Yet, for anybody who was there, breathing in the chilled air and feeling hair stand straight up on their arms as the teams entered Heinz Field side by side, it was clearly more than just another hockey game.
Amidst playoff affairs and legendary comebacks, a regular-season game should pale by comparison. The Winter Classic simply doesn't, and that is just that. It's a beautiful monument to a great game, and one year it featured these great rivals.
It was a beautiful portrait for the NHL, a highly marketed duel between game greats, and a memorable installment to the modern classic.
The Capitals erased a 1-0 deficit, scored by Evgeni Malkin, to win 3-1.
2. Nedved Scored Winner at 2:00 AM
Game 4 of the 1996 playoffs between the Penguins and Capitals entered the fourth overtime after 1:00 a.m. Eastern.
With fans lapsing in and out of consciousness from the stands, Washington looked to put a stranglehold on the series. The Penguins, refusing to yield, were attempting to stave off a 3-1 series deficit.
Washington fans had an early morning car ride back to their homes, where they would have to slumber with fresh memories of defeat.
Petr Nedved's overtime goal ended a four-overtime marathon!
For the third time in four postseason meetings, the Pens would erase a multiple-game deficit to defeat the Capitals.
1. Double Hat Trick During Epic 2009 Playoff Clash
By 2009, fans were salivating for the inevitable playoff matchup of the Penguins vs. Capitals.
Or, more accurately in their minds, Crosby vs. Ovechkin.
Ahead by a game, the Caps would endure a Sidney Crosby hat trick in Game 2 of the series.
Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, Alexander Ovechkin apparently ate the same hotel breakfast as the Penguins star, and he also tallied a hat trick.
The 4-3 Capitals victory was highlighted by six goals from the NHL's two greatest stars. In a series for the ages that featured a rivalry for the ages (between teams and players), this was a game for the ages!