If the 2020-21 NHL season has brought us anything, it has brought us some fantastic rivalries.
We’ve seen teams from the East and West create rivalries, like Dallas and Tampa Bay, and others revive them, like Chicago and Detroit.
With the newly-implemented schedules in which teams only play divisional opponents, every game takes on a new meaning and some new rivalries are created. But, some rivalries stayed intact and got even more intense than they already were. That is definitely the case for one of the most heated rivalries in the league between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals.
Most Recent Meetings
With fewer than 10 games remaining in either team’s schedule, the Penguins and Capitals hooked up for their final two meetings of the season on Thursday and Saturday. And it could not have come at a better time as both teams are at the top of the MassMutual East Division vying to hang a banner in the rafters.
Thursday’s game was a classic back-and-forth battle that Penguin and Capital fans alike are used to seeing. The Pens thought they had the win wrapped up before Tom Wilson netted the equalizer with 15 seconds left. Jake Guentzel scored in overtime to give Pittsburgh the 5-4 win.
Penguins’ goaltender Tristan Jarry stole the show on Saturday, however, as he stopped all 24 shots he faced en route to his first shutout of the season. The Penguins, as they have for the past month or so, displayed incredible team defense. Limiting the Capitals’ offensive chances and taking care of the puck has played a big role in the Penguins’ defense lately.
While the Penguins only outscored the Capitals during the season series 28-24, Pittsburgh ultimately came out on top going 6-2-0. As of Sunday, Pittsburgh sits atop the division with 71 points (34-15-3) compared to the Capitals, who have 69 points (32-14-5).
When we look back at these two teams’ history between one other, the highlights are dominated by players like Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Nicklas Backstrom and others. Although the rivalry has been there in some respect since Washington’s inception into the league in 1974, it really came to the forefront when Crosby and Ovechkin started their NHL careers during the 2005-06 season.
Prior to that, though, the rivalry was highlighted by moments like the 1991 Patrick Division and Petr Nedved’s game-winner in the fourth overtime during the 1996 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
Since then, it’s been highlighted with series during all four of the two team’s respective Stanley Cup runs (2009, 2016, 2017 and 2018). Sticking out for me was Crosby and Ovechkin’s dueling hat tricks during the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Pittsburgh currently leads the all-time series, 118-97-16-5, while the Penguins also leads 9-2 in 11 previous playoff series.
How it Stacks Up With the Rest
You could probably say the most well-known NHL rivalry is Canadiens-Maple Leafs, but considering neither team has been relevant in years puts the Pens-Caps rivalry ahead of it in my books. Sure, it is more historic and has that going for it, but professional sports always goes by the saying “what have you done for me lately?” And when that rivalry has to answer that question, the answer is nothing.
Canadiens-Bruins is also a very good rivalry with a lot of history, but again, what has it done for me lately? Nothing.
Other notable rivalries that come to mind include Red Wings-Avalanche, Islanders-Rangers, Flames-Oilers (also hasn’t been relevant in quite some time), and even Flyers-Penguins.
Don’t get me wrong, all those rivalries have their own niche, their own factor that makes them special. But, when we’re talking about modern talent in the post-expansion era with the skills of Crosby and Ovechkin going head-to-head in playoff battles almost every year, Pens-Caps is up there with the best of them.
Hopefully, the hockey gods will bless us with another playoff matchup, but we will have to wait and see in the near future.
Jake Deemer covers the Pittsburgh Penguins while previously writing for The Derrick & The News-Herald newspaper in Oil City, Pa. Born in Western Pennsylvania, Deemer graduated from Clarion University in 2018 with a degree in Digital Media Communications and Sports Journalism.