When you think of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ top rivals your first thoughts probably go directly to the Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals, and perhaps the New York Rangers. Maybe even the Columbus Blue Jackets to a lesser extent.
But there are a couple of other short-lived rivalries that stand out in my mind, and they are the ones that I went to focus on today.
They may not be the most historic rivalries the Penguins have had, but they have absolutely had their share of intense and significant meetings and storylines.
Before the 2007-08 season the Penguins had pretty much no real history with the Red Wings.
They rarely played during the regular season, they never met in the playoffs, and other than both trying to claim bragging rights for being the “team of the 90s” there really wasn’t much happening here.
But playing for a championship two years in a row can certainly change things in a hurry.
Especially when there was major free agent defection thrown in between.
In the spring of 2008 the Penguins made one of the most significant trades in franchise history when they acquired Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis from the Atlanta Thrashers just minutes before the NHL trade deadline. It was a massive move for a team on the rise and turned the Penguins from “young team with promise” to “bonafide Stanley Cup contender.”
Hossa ended up playing a key role in the 2008 playoffs and helped drive the Penguins to their first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 1992. It was there that the Penguins ran into an absolute buzzsaw of a Red Wings team, and even with a valiant effort from Marc-Andre Fleury (this was his best postseason performance in Pittsburgh, and probably would have warranted the Conn Smythe Trophy had Penguins won the Stanley Cup) and a memorable triple overtime win in Game 5 it still was not enough. The series ended with the puck coming off Hossa’s stick on the goal line right at the buzzer. The imagine of him dejectedly sitting along the boards would be the lasting image of the series.
Especially when just a few weeks later he ended up signing a one-year deal with the Red Wings in free agency, making an already powerhouse team even better.
It made the 2009 Stanley Cup Final rematch seem even more daunting than it already was.
This time, though, it was the Penguins winning the Stanley Cup on a buzzer-beating save, getting their revenge on the Red Wings from the previous year, and making Hossa wait another year to get his championship.
In the media level at PPG Paints Arena the hallway is lined with pictures and old newspaper clippings of notable moments in Penguins history. One of the first ones you come to after you get off the elevator is a picture of Max Talbot celebrating one of his two goals from Game 7 with the back of one Red Wings player visible in the background.
That always stands out to me.
A very underrated rival in the sense that these two teams have met in the playoffs A LOT over the years and have had some absolutely batshit crazy moments between them.
How often have they met? Consider this stat that still kinda shocks me a little bit.
During the Sidney Crosby-Evgeni Malkin-Kris Letang era the Penguins have played more postseason games against the Senators (27 games) than any other team in the Eastern Conference. That includes the Capitals (26 games), Flyers (23 games), and Rangers (22 games).
Yeah that is correct. The Ottawa Senators.
There have also been some incredible games and moments in this often times forgotten rivalry.
First, this was the first team that Crosby and Malkin played against the playoffs in the 2007 postseason. It was a very rude welcome, too, as that Senators team was a force and rolled its way to the Stanley Cup Final.
The Penguins would get their revenge in the opening round one year later. This was the year Gary Roberts tried to fight everybody in Game 1 of the series.
The Penguins would cruise in a four game sweep.
Two years later — after the Penguins had played in back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals and won the 2009 Stanley Cup — they would meet in the first round again with Pascal Dupuis scoring a series clinching goal in overtime.
Do you know what else this series was famous for?
The 2012-13 season turned out to be complete chaos between these two teams when Matt Cooke accidentally caused a significant injury to Senators superstar defenseman Erik Karlsson, enraging pretty much everyone involved with the Ottawa organization.
I remember standing in the hallway outside of the Senators locker room after this game when an enraged Bryan Murray stormed through. Team owner Eugene Melnynk launched a literal forensics investigation to prove Cooke injured Karlsson on purpose, with all of this eventually leading to the most completely insane newspaper headline that I can recall in professional sports.
This really happened. Seriously. What in the hell?
Oh, and there was also a playoff series that year with the Penguins absolutely demolishing the Senators so soundly that when Daniel Alfredsson was asked after his team’s Game 4 loss if they could come back and win the series, he simply responded by saying “probably not.”
A few years later the Penguins and Senators met in the postseason once again with their biggest stakes yet — a trip to the Stanley Cup Final.
The Penguins were the defending champions while the Senators were the surprising cinderella team that had gone on an improbably run through the playoffs. They gave the Penguins everything they had in a stunning seven game series that ended with Chris Kunitz scoring a classic goal to send the team to another Stanley Cup Final.
You probably forgot about most of this and how much history these two teams have had in the playoffs. That is what makes it such an underrated rivalry, even if it does not get the attention of the bigger divisional rivalries.