Good evening, hockey fans.
While my partner in crime, Rob Rossi, is with the squad in Washington tonight, I thought I’d give you my list of the top 10 games in Penguins/Capitals history. There have been some beauties, largely because of the star power involved. Lemieux, Jagr, Francis, Stevens, Crosby, Malkin, Ovechkin, Iafrate, Ciccarelli, Oates…I could go on and on.
So, here’s a look. You may disagree with some (hey, it wasn’t easy), but you’ll agree that it’s always a fun night of hockey when these teams play.
Penguins/Capitals: This List
Honorable mention: Game 7 of the 2009 Eastern Conference semifinals sure was memorable, but was it a great game? Hardly. The final score was 6-2, and it wasn’t even that close. The Caps weren’t ready for such a stage. Still, it was one you’ll never forget.
Honorable mention, Part 2: You surely recall Jan. 21, 2008, because of one hit and one rivalry. Something strange happened the previous summer that turned Malkin and Ovechkin into foes. Ovechkin attempted to decapitate Malkin behind the Penguins’ net, but took the worst of the hit. The Capitals won in a shootout, but Malkin’s brilliant play, and the strange imagine of the Russian stars at each other’s throats, intensified the rivalry.
10. 2011 Winter Classic
I’ll be honest: I hate outdoor games, and the quality of play at Heinz Field was actually pretty horrible. Crosby and Ovechkin both had quiet games in the Capitals’ victory.
But from a historical standpoint, this game simply needs to be mentioned. It was the first outdoor game that was played at night, and it quickly became evident that all outdoor games should be played at night. Has a sporting event ever looked prettier than the ice glistening under those lights, with the Penguins and Capitals both wearing spectacular uniforms? I don’t think so.
Plus, while it’s something Crosby and the Penguins would prefer to forget, the game has significant historical relevance because this was the night that triggered Crosby’s concussion issues. Plus, HBO made a whole TV show about the events leading up to this game. So, it had to make the cut.
9. 2009 Eastern Conference semifinals, Game 3
This is one of the forgotten games in Penguins history, but it shouldn’t be. You’ll recall that Washington took a 2-0 series lead on the Penguins and, in the early moments of Game 3, a lucky bounce gave Ovechkin an easy goal.
Still, the Penguins roared back and a brilliant goal from Malkin gave the Penguins a late lead. The Capitals, though, evened the game in the final moments of the third period to send it to overtime.
Kris Letang ended the game in overtime when his shot from the point was deflected before ringing off the post and into the net. The Penguins went on to win the next two games before falling in Game 6 and winning Game 7.
But those games probably wouldn’t have happened if not for Letang’s series-saving goal.
8. 1992 Patrick Division semifinals, Game 7
It wasn’t a Capitals choke, as many called it at that time. Instead, the Penguins came back in the opening round of the 1992 season because their incredible talent simply took the series over.
Game 7, though, wasn’t like the rest of the series. An exceptionally high-scoring series became a defensive struggle in Game 7.
The difference, naturally, was Lemieux, who was probably at the height of his power in this series. His shorthanded goal was clearly the difference on a night when the Capitals had a chance to eliminate the Penguins in Washington.
7. 2001 Eastern Conference quarterfinals, Game 6
It could be argued that the quintessential Penguins/Capitals moment came in this game.
The Capitals never rise to the occasion against the Penguins in the postseason, and endured a horrible – and unlucky – mishap at the wrong time.
In overtime of Game 6 at Mellon Arena, Washington defenseman Sergei Gonchar was skating with the puck in his own territory when the puck hit a bad piece of ice and hopped over his stick.
Marty Straka then found himself on a breakaway and made no mistake, sending the Penguins into the second round during Mario Lemieux’s comeback season.
6. 2009 Eastern Conference semifinals, Game 2
This was quite simply the hat trick game.
Ovechkin and Crosby both registered hat tricks in a memorable showdown.
Although Ovechkin won this battle, Crosby and the Penguins won the war a few nights later. Still, for many people, this will be remembered as the night the two greatest players in the game put on a show for the ages.
Ovechkin probably never looked more dominant in a game than he did here, when Fleury was clearly baffled by everything the star Russian did.
5. 1992 Patrick Division semifinals, Game 6
The situation was pretty simple. Washington led the series, 3-2, and had an opportunity to eliminate the defending champs at Civic Arena. And let’s not forget, that was a great Washington team. Only the New York Rangers produced a better regular season record that season.
Washington was terrific most of the game, taking a 4-2 lead in the second period.
Then Lemieux went to work, as only he could, and the Capitals could never really stop him. Lemieux finished with two goals – the game-winner coming on one of the brilliant goals of his career – as the Penguins ran away with the 6-4 win.
4. 2009 Eastern Conference semifinals, Game 6
Sorry for bringing this one up, Pens fans, but this was the best game of that classic series, in my opinion. It’s also a good trivia question. Only once in Penguins history has the team that lost Game 6 in a series come back to win Game 7, and this was the one.
In a brilliant, back and forth game, the Capitals took the lead in the third period. However, a classic Crosby goal that saw the Penguins captain simply outwork the Capitals evened the game late in the third period.
David Steckel, however, won the game in overtime for the Capitals, triggering coach Bruce Boudreau to jump up and down behind the bench like a child. And I don’t mean that as an insult. It was a game worth jumping and down over.
3. 1995 Eastern Conference semifinals, Game 5
This is often a forgotten season in Penguins history because Lemieux took a sabbatical during the strike-shortened season. However, the Penguins started 7-0 that season and were still quite fun to watch.
However, they fell behind 3-1 against the Capitals in the first round, which became a normal theme.
Only a brilliant performance from Jagr helped the Penguins get back into Game 5. He finished with two goals and an assist.
Luc Robitaille, in his only season with the Penguins, ended the game in overtime when he converted on a pass from, of all people, Francois Leroux.
The Penguins then dominated the final two games of the series.
2. 1991 Patrick Division final, Game 2
This game set the stage for so many Penguins comebacks – and Capitals meltdowns – that would become commonplace for the remainder of the decade.
Consider that Washington won Game 1 in Pittsburgh and took a 6-5 lead late in the third period in Game 2. At this point, the Penguins had never won a Stanley Cup and were viewed as something of an unknown.
Then Randy Gilhen came off the bench and tied the game on a delayed penalty.
In overtime, Ron Francis and Kevin Stevens found themselves on a 2-on-1, and Stevens buried a goal that gave the Penguins the 7-6 win. They never lost again that series, and rarely had the Civic Arena been so loud.
1. 1996 Eastern Conference final, Game 4
Pretty easy choice here, right?
Seven periods of hockey were played that night. It ended at 2:17 a.m. Lemieux was ejected in the second period when he finally snapped during the height of the clutch and grab era. The Penguins came back from 2-0 down in that game. Ken Wregget stopped Joe Juneau’s penalty shot.
And that all happened before Petr Nedved scored an iconic overtime goal.
It was an incredible moment in Penguins history, and you’ll recall that about half the fans in Washington that night were Pittsburgh fans. It was quite a night for the franchise.