Pens-Caps again lives up to billing

March, 24, 2010

Usually unflappable Marc-Andre Fleury swung his stick at his right post in disgust after giving up the shootout winner to Mike Knuble on Wednesday night, an act of frustration that might as well have been on behalf of his entire team.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are winless in nine games this season versus the two Eastern Conference teams they have to worry about most come playoff time, the New Jersey Devils (0-6-0) and Washington Capitals (0-1-2).

The reigning Cup champions have one such game left in the regular season, an April 6 meeting against the Caps in Pittsburgh, to restore some measure of confidence. I know they have the Cup rings from nine months ago, but you can't tell me having lost all 10 games to Washington and New Jersey could not play on their minds entering the playoffs. It will. So circle April 6 on your calendars, Pens fans; your team badly needs a victory that night.

To be fair, the Pens were missing defenseman Sergei Gonchar and star center Evgeni Malkin on Wednesday and still managed to outshoot the Caps 42-32, but they fell short yet again.

Looking at the big picture, Wednesday night was another reminder of why we want these two teams to meet again in the playoffs, whether it's in the second round or the third.

Washington's 4-3 shootout win was another entertaining affair. The Pens scored late to tie it on Jordan Staal's wicked wrister, then the game's two superstars, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, traded back-to-back shootout beauties before Knuble eventually decided it, to the delight of a frenzied Verizon Center crowd. The shootout, with Washington erasing a 2-0 deficit, was superb.

On a night when the NHL and the NHL Players' Association released more statements to update their bizarre power play over a new head-shot rule (not to mention the continued concern in Phoenix over the off-ice future of the Coyotes), the NHL once again doled out its hottest commodity, one that fans and media cannot get enough of. Yes, I can take more Pens-Caps this spring, no question.

All of which is why I'm pretty sure you'll hear an official announcement from the NHL at some point soon that next season's Winter Classic on Jan. 1 will feature these two teams. It's a no-brainer. It's the NHL's best rivalry right now with the game's two biggest stars.

No matter how many people fill the message boards complaining that Crosby and Ovechkin have reached the saturation point in their exposure, the reality is completely the opposite.

There's plenty more the league can do with these two captains and these two teams, and it certainly hopes to do just that.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer


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