As we head towards the inevitable Penguins - Capitals matchup, the 11th of all-time and the 4th of the Crosby/Malkin vs. Ovechkin era, it’s a great primer to look back at ten important notes from the past to one of the NHL’s most colorful (and one-sided) playoff rivalry.
I: The Penguins are the “hammer” in this “hammer vs. nail” rivalry, winning 9 of the 10 playoff meetings, but Game 1’s have been quite the challenge. Washington is 8-2 all-time in Game 1’s vs Pittsburgh (h/t Josh Yohe), which makes the end result all the more back-breaking on the other side. The only years the Pens have started up 1-0 on the Caps have been 2000, and last year in 2017.
II: Washington-Pittsburgh is the 2nd most played non-Original Six playoff series in NHL history, this will be the 11th meeting. Dallas vs. St. Louis is at 13.
62 of Pittsburgh’s 371 total playoff games (or 16.7%) have been against Washington. For Washington, it’s 62 of 257, 24.1%.
III: You may think it feels like the Pens/Caps play each other all the time now, but there have only been 20 games to date in the modern playoff rivalry of the 71/87 v. 8 era. Jaromir Jagr played 42 games as Penguin in the playoffs against the Capitals (scoring 20 goals and adding 32 assists, both marks records for this playoff rivalry). Speaking of 68’s, if you’re looking for good omens this is the 68th playoff series in Pittsburgh Penguin history...
IV: Four stands for quad, as in quadruple overtime. Petr Nedved scored in 4OT back in 1996 to tie the series at 2 games a piece. Pittsburgh would go on to win the next two games of this series as well to eliminate the Caps.
V: The “one that got away” was the 1994 playoffs, where the Caps beat the Pens in 6 games. In that first round series, many considered the #2 seed in the conference Pittsburgh team a heavy favorite over #7 Washington. But it was goalie Don Beaupre who earned the wins and held Mario Lemieux to one goal in the last four games of the series.
VI: Pretty famously, the Caps have been a speed-bump for the Pens in all five of Pittsburgh’s Stanley Cup years (1991, 1992, 2009, 2016, 2017). Good thing the Pens aren’t superstitious or anything. Hey why is this on bullet point #6?
VII: Game 7’s have been very favorable for Pittsburgh with a 4-0 record, including wins in three of the Cup years (‘92, ‘09 and ‘17). One still can’t help but think the save below by Marc-Andre Fleury on Alex Ovechkin (followed by Sidney Crosby opening the scoring in the game later in the period) really went a long way to chart the courses that both franchises have been on for almost a decade.
VIII: Matt Murray is 4-2 with a .926 save % and 2.40 GAA against the Caps in the playoffs (which was composed entirely of the 2016 series). Braden Holtby is 5-8 with a .908 save % and 2.63 GAA career vs. Pittsburgh in the playoffs (the 2016 and 2017 series).
Tom Barrasso was all-time only 10-10 against the Caps. It was his backups like good old Kenny Wreggett (7-2) that really performed well. There’s also a variety of random journeymen turning in goaltending performances for Pittsburgh over Washington over the years. Like Ron Tugnutt in 2000 (4-1, .950 save%) or Moose Johan Hebderg in 2001 (4-2, .938%).
IX: It’s probably best to bet on a longer series between these two. There’s never been a sweep and only twice has Pens v. Caps ended in 5 games (1991, 2001). Four times it’s been six game series (1994, 1996, 2001, 2016) and the aforementioned four Game 7’s.
X: Overtime has worked out well for the Pens in this series, going 11-2 overall in games needing extra time. The Caps two OT wins have come in recent years (2009 and 2016), though the Pens have won five in the same time period.