One of the great divisional battles in hockey finally begins on Sunday at the Capital One Arena when the Pittsburgh Penguins take on the Washington Capitals for the first time this season. Last year, the Penguins won three of four games including the overtime thriller on opening night. The Penguins-Capitals is always a rivalry game but here are the five best Pens-Caps battles.
5. Mario’s Four Goals and OT Heroics
On April 2, 1988, the Penguins needed a win against Washington and some help the following night to slip past New York and New Jersey for the first Patrick Division playoff berth in Lemieux’s career. And Lemieux did everything possible. That season, he led the league that year with 70 goals when no other player had more than 56, and also captured the Art Ross from Wayne Gretzky by nearly 20 points. Lemieux beat Washington goalie Clint Malarchuk three times in the first period for his 12th career hat-trick, but he wasn’t done. After Lemieux’s instant dominance, which included two short-handed goals, and an early second-period goal by Zarley Zalapski, the Penguins had a quick 4-1 lead. Yet, Washington fought back, and a wild second period ensued with six goals, but four by Washington to tie the game 5-5. Paul Coffey scored his second goal of the game 79 seconds into the third period, but Washington once again battled back to force overtime. A tie meant the Penguins would miss the playoffs, again.
In the final minute of overtime with the Penguins season hanging by a thread, it was Lemieux to the rescue with one of his signature goals. Just listen to Mike Lange’s call. The Penguins didn’t get the help they needed and missed the playoffs, again but Mario’s four goals helped solidify the Art Ross, along with his first Hart Memorial Trophy.
It also included the line from color commentator Paul Steigerwald, “No. 66 is the greatest player in the world. Someone try to tell me he’s not.”
4. The Great ’92 Rally
In 1992, the Pittsburgh Penguins won their second Stanley Cup in two years, but they almost didn’t make it past the first round. The Pens met Washington in Round One and trailed the series 3-1 and faced elimination for three straight games. The wild series featured fights including Rick Tocchet with a broken jaw scrapping with Kevin Hatcher, hat tricks by Dino Cicerelli and Mario Lemieux and ultimately one of the great Penguins comebacks.
After a players-only meeting, Lemieux and Ron Francis pushed the team to change tactics, into a 1-4 trap at the blue line. The Penguins won Games 5 and 6 to force Game 7 in Washington D.C. Washington was 11 points better than the Penguins in the regular season, and Washington won the season series 5-2, but when it mattered most, the Penguins shined. Mario Lemieux scored a short-handed goal in the first period and assisted on 19-year old Jaromir Jagr’s second-period goal, which gave the Pens a 2-1 lead. Joe Mullen’s empty-netter with 33 seconds left sealed the series for the Penguins and propelled them to an eventual Stanley Cup win.
This was Penguins second playoff win over Washington and truly began a long string of breaking Washington’s heart.
3. Game 7 Flower
After losing the 2008 Stanley Cup Final to the Detroit Red Wings, the Pittsburgh Penguins were on a mission. Their quest for the 2009 Stanley Cup did not look promising when they fell behind 2-0 to the Southeast division-winning Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The next three games, two went to overtime, and the Penguins won all three. A home overtime loss in game 6 setup the two teams for a winner-take-all game in Washington on May 13.
The game turned early in the first period. Alex Ovechkin stormed Penguins goalie on a breakaway. A goal would have launched Washington and perhaps sunk the Penguins. But Marc-Andre Fleury stole the game and the show. Fleury robbed Ovechkin then taunted him. The Penguins rolled with five unanswered goals and a 6-2 win. It remains one of the iconic Fleury moments in Penguins history.
2. HBK Eliminates Caps
The 2015-16 season was a wild ride for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Head coach Mike Johnston was fired after 28 games, and was replaced by then AHL head coach Mike Sullivan. The coaching change provided the Penguins with a spark, and they won 33 of the final 54 games, including 14 of their final 15 games in the “March of the Penguins.”
The Penguins carried that heat into the postseason where they cruised past the New York Rangers 4-1 in the first round. In the second round, awaited their old friend, the President’s Trophy-winning Washington Capitals. Ovechkin won his fourth straight Rocket Richard Trophy, led the Capitals to a Game 1 win. The Penguins bounced back, and won the next three games aking the next three games, and held a 3-2 lead coming back home for game six. The pressure was on the Penguins to avoid a Game 7 back in Washington.
Phil Kessel scored the first two goals and Carl Hagelin added another to give the Penguins a 3-0 lead in the second period. Washington fought back with everything they had left. They scored three unanswered goals to force overtime. But the Penguins continued to torment the Washington Capitals franchise. Nick Bonino-Bonino-Bonino-Boninoooooo (as the Punjabi announcer, Harnarayan Singh’s goal call became famous) put the rebound past goalie Branden Holtby and the Penguins won the series. The win launched the Penguins past the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games and then defeated San Jose for the franchise’s fourth Stanley Cup win.
1. The Never-Ending Story
In the first round of the 1995-96 NHL Playoffs, the Penguins and Washington squared off in a matchup of two very different teams. The Penguins had three players over 119 points: Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, and Ron Francis. Washington’s top scorer was Michal Pivonka with just 81 points, but heir goalie, Jim Carey, won the Vezina Trophy. However, the Penguins broke Carey. Actually, the Penguins stars effectively sent Carey’s career on a tailspin as the goalie was never the same and was soon gone from the NHL.
In Game 4, Washington had a 2-1 series lead and scored the first two goals. Late in the second period, Jagr scored a short-handed goal to cut the Washington lead to one, but Lemieux was issued a game misconduct penalty for jumping Washington pest Todd Krygier late in the second period. Down 2-1 and without Lemieux, Petr Nedved answered eight minutes into the third period.
The game was scoreless for the next 87 minutes and 15 seconds until Nedved scored again in the fourth overtime. It was the fifth-longest playoff game in NHL history and ended in the wee hours of the morning. There were a total of 75 penalty minutes, including 2 game misconducts, and 128 shots, but only 5 goals. Olaf Kolzig made 62 saves on 65 shots and lost. The Pittsburgh Penguins won the series in six games.