A lot can happen in seven years. For the Pittsburgh Penguins, it can be described as one of triumph and disappointment with a rebirth of optimism during these playoffs. The Washington Capitals have been consistent.
“Consistent” for Washington in this example is not a positive thing.
During the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs, these two teams met in what could be described as one of the greatest playoff series in the history of the game. It featured hat tricks by Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby in Game 2, and a comeback by the Penguins after going down 2-0 in the series. Games 5 and 6 featured overtimes, with Pittsburgh winning the first, and the Capitals forcing Game 7 back at the Verizon Center, which, in Capitals fashion, resulted in a 6-2 blowout by the Penguins to take the series in seven games.
The Penguins went on to sweep the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Finals and got revenge on the Detroit Red Wings, winning their third Stanley Cup in franchise history in an exciting seven-game series.
As previously noted, both teams have not met personal expectations over the last five years.
Pittsburgh’s inability to return to the Final and having first round exits in three of the last six postseasons has left some in the fanbase discouraged and feeling as though a dynasty has been wasted, while the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings can boast multiple Stanley Cups over the last six seasons.
On the other side, the Capitals have stayed consistent with their playoff history. Since Alexander Ovechkin’s first season in 2005, Washington has never advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals. The Ovechkin Era consists of two President’s Trophies, but not the hardware players really want to win in June. They don't even have a Prince of Wales trophy to show for it. The Capitals have made the second round in three of the last six playoffs following their loss to the Penguins in 2009, but could never meet expectations. One of the most disappointing moments of this span has to be the 2010 playoffs, when the Capitals boasted hockey’s best record, but fell to the eight-seeded Canadiens in the first round.
The two now come together for the first time in seven years in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They have become division foes one again with realignment in 2013, so they see more of each other than they used to. The same big names like Ovechkin, Crosby, Malkin, Backstrom and Letang will be there, but with different supporting casts and coaches.
Washington once again won the President’s Trophy this season and were Stanley Cup favorites to many throughout most of the regular season, and held off a feisty Flyers team that won two-straight after going down 3-0 in the series, giving some fans that sick feeling that a monumental collapse was about to happen, but never did, as the Capitals won Game 6 in Philadelphia. The Penguins have been at a different level since early March, surging up the Metropolitan Division standings to take the second seed, making Henrik Lundqvist and his New York Rangers teammates look one-dimensional, scoring five or more goals in three of their four wins to take the series in five games.
When this series finally gets underway, it will be the ratings-grabber the NHL needs after a poor showing in round one, and the two favorites in Vegas will play a series that many wish could determine the Eastern Conference’s representative in the Stanley Cup Final, but must settle on this being a second round match, where the winner plays the Islanders or the Lightning for the conference title.
Fans will expect the Penguins to overcome their shortcomings in the playoffs since their Stanley Cup title in 2009, while the Capitals, who may have their best chance to advance since that series against Pittsburgh seven years ago, might be expected to lose this series, and nobody, including some of their fans, would be surprised.