The Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals have met eight times in the Stanley Cup playoffs (including five times in six seasons in the 1990s), and despite trailing in seven of those series, the Penguins have won all but one (the 1994 Eastern Conference quarterfinals).
So when the Penguins drafted Sidney Crosby with the No. 1 pick in 2005, a year after the Capitals used the No. 1 pick on Alex Ovechkin, the Penguins and Capitals were set to reignite a rivalry that had been dormant since the mid-1990s.
For two decades, the rivalry has been one-sided, but now that the teams have a second-round appointment in the 2016 playoffs, the Capitals have a chance to start a new chapter. Here’s a look at how they got to this point.
Before their time
1992 division semifinals: A year removed from being run off the ice in five games against the Penguins in 1991, the Capitals took a 3-1 series lead. The Penguins stormed back to outscore them 14-7 in the final three games to win in seven.
1995 conference quarterfinals: Three years later, the Capitals again took a 3-1 series lead before the Penguins won Game 5 in overtime. The demoralized Capitals were outscored 10-1 in the final two games of the series.
1996 conference quarterfinals: After the Capitals blew those two 3-1 series leads to the Penguins, this series had all the drama it needed. The Capitals jumped out 2-0 before the Penguins won four straight. The highlight of the series came in Game 4, which ended with Pittsburgh’s Petr Nedved scoring the game-winning goal with less than a minute to go in the fourth overtime.
Welcome to the party
The drafting of Ovechkin (2004) and Crosby (2005), each No. 1 overall in their back-to-back drafts, reignited the Penguins-Capitals rivalry. Due to the lockout, both future MVPs made their NHL debuts on the same night, Oct. 5, 2005. Here are their head-to-head highlights:
2005 World Juniors: The first meeting between Crosby and Ovechkin came as Russia took on Canada in the gold medal game of the World Junior Ice Hockey Championships (U20). The Canadians took home their 11th gold medal at the event behind Crosby’s six goals and nine points in the tournament. Ovechkin finished with seven goals and 11 points.
Nov. 22, 2005: The Penguins hosted the Capitals in Ovechkin and Crosby’s first NHL meeting. Crosby notched a goal and an assist in the Penguins’ 5-4 victory. Ovechkin had an assist.
2008-09 conference semifinals: The Capitals took a 2-0 series lead, but the Penguins came back to win in seven. The most memorable moment from the series came in Game 2 when both Ovechkin and Crosby recorded a hat trick. Elias Sports Bureau research notes that they were the first players from opposing teams to do so in a playoff game in 13 years and the fourth to do so in playoff history.
Ovechkin finished the series with eight goals and 14 points. Crosby matched him with eight goals, 13 points and, a month later, the Stanley Cup.
Feb. 7, 2010: On Super Bowl Sunday in 2010, Ovechkin recorded a hat trick in a 5-4 overtime win over the Penguins. The performance was known as “Snovechkin” after approximately 15 to 25 inches of snow fell in the D.C. area.
2010 Winter Olympics: Russia played Canada in the quarterfinals of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia. The matchup was centered on Ovechkin vs. Crosby, but neither recorded a point. Crosby came out on top, with Canada winning the game, 7-3.
2011 Winter Classic: The Capitals won the game 3-1 behind two goals from Eric Fehr (who now plays for the Penguins), in what remains the most-watched Winter Classic in the event’s nine-year history. The most notable moment came when Crosby took a hard fall after a hit to the head by David Steckel. Four days later, Crosby took another hit to the head and missed the rest of the season with concussion symptoms.
Here we go again
Ovechkin’s Capitals won the Presidents’ Trophy, earned a franchise-best 120 points and allowed six total goals to the Flyers in the first round (a franchise best, as noted by Elias), but no team is hotter than the Penguins.
Since Dec. 12, the Penguins are the highest-scoring team in the NHL (including playoffs) at 3.32 goals per game. In their last 20 games, including the playoffs, the Penguins are 17-3-0.
Pittsburgh’s hot streak began soon after its midseason coaching change, when Mike Johnston was dismissed and Mike Sullivan was named the new head coach Dec. 12. From that day to the present, the Penguins have led the NHL in goals (175), come in second in goal differential (plus-41) and have tied for third in wins (33).
The last time the Penguins made an in-season coaching change (in 2008-09, when Dan Bylsma took over for Michel Therrien), they went on to win the Stanley Cup. Now the Penguins are looking to become the sixth team to win a Stanley Cup after making an in-season coaching change.
Getting over the hump
The Capitals have not been to the conference finals since 1998. This will be the fifth time since then that they’ve reached the second round of the postseason. The Capitals lost every one of their previous four second-round series, though three of those series went seven games.
Elias notes that Ovechkin (525 career goals) ranks second in career goals among players who have never played in conference or Stanley Cup finals. First is Marcel Dionne with 731 goals.
After a convincing five-game series win over the Rangers, the Penguins are co-favorites with the Capitals, at 7-2, to win the Stanley Cup, according to the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook. The Capitals began the playoffs as 7-2 favorites, and the Penguins were 5-1.