Saturday, May 2, 2009

Whats Old Is New Again | Washington Capitals Vs Pittsburgh Penguins - Game 1, Round 2 | 1PM EDT Verizon Center


When I first became a Washington Capitals fan, the Pittsburgh Penguins were hardly on my radar as a hated Rival. In fact for most of the time period up until the late 1980's, I thought of the Penguins as one of the lesser franchises in the NHL. The Penguins were consistently bad, and out of the playoffs for most of the 1980's, and were often finishing near the bottom of the pack in the league. That slowly began to change after the Penguins drafted two men who would be come bona-fide NHL superstars in the 1990's, by the names of Mario Lemieux, and Jaromir Jagr. It really was not until 1987 when I started to really feel a rivalry between Pittsburgh and Washington, and I can remember the exact game where those feelings were solidified and my disdain for the Penguins grew into hatred. It was a game at the Capital Centre back in March of 1987 when the Pens were in town playing the Caps. Things got ugly that game, and Mario Lemieux took a cheap shot after the whistle and went after the Caps Bobby Gould. Bobby Gould was no super star for sure. He was known has a hard working mucker and grinder, a blue collar, lunch pail kinda of player in the NHL, but he also did not take shit from anyone, burgeoning superstar or not. Gould was having none of it and pounded Lemieux, and knocked him out. Needless to say it got ugly from there, and it has been pretty ugly ever since, especially for Capitals fans. Here is the video of that fight back in 1987:

Bobby Gould Knocks Out Mario Lemieux:

Things very well may get ugly once again this series. There have been a few "dust ups" both on the ice between star players, and in the media between these two teams. The Rivalry is back on with the fans as well, as there is some rather nasty banter going on back and forth on both the Capitals message boards, and Penguins message boards. The most agregious I have seen to date have been from some Penguins fans. There have even been sub plots involving the Capitals handling of remaining ticket sales, and of some Capitals season ticket holders giving away ticket purchasing passwords to Pens fans for them to attempt to get tickets to games here in Washington. Even Washington's owner Ted Leonsis has attempted to make it even harder for Pens fans to get tickets by requiring a password for the "presale", and has also made it next to impossible to purchase tickets unless you have a Washington metropolitan area mailing / billing address. There are even rumblings that some season ticket holders who were outed for giving away or selling the password, are facing some action from the Capitals from not being able to purchase presale tickets to playoff games any longer, to outright season ticket revocation. If that is in fact that case, then I say good for Ted! Verizon Center has at times in the past been filled with black and gold, and the Caps and thier fans have finally had enough. Based on how few New York Rangers fans were able to make it in for round 1, I would bet there wont be much black and gold amongst the legions of red rockers at Verizon Center this series.

Well, most if not all of the faces have changed, and the teams have changed logos and / or colors a couple times since then, but the old rivalry that has heavily favored the Penguins and their faitful is once again front and center for both the Pens and the Caps, and their legions of fans. However, this time, this the rivalry that is on display in this Eastern Conference Semifinal series is also on display for the entire NHL, and in deed, the entire outside sports world in general. The NHL's wildest dreams have finally come true, and everyone will get to see the most coveted playoff battle of this generation. Alexander Ovechkin VS Sydney Crosby.

I mentioned previously that there have been some "dust ups" on the ice between these two clubs star players. The photo to the left is from one such incident at a game this past February here at Verizon Centre. Suffice it to say, if this is any indication, then I am certain this will rivalry will dramatically intensivy both on, and off the ice during this series, and probably for years afterwards. For those intersted, here is the video from the altercation in the photo to the left:

Alexander Ovechkin VS Sydney Crosby:

Both clubs have gone through good times, and bad since then, and both have been though a rebuild, and are once again each on the rise to the top. The difference this time is that the Washington Capitals have something they have not had in most series past when they have faced the Penguins in the post season. The Capitals have, a bona-fide superstar player. In fact, they have two. Alexander Semin, and now, Alexander Ovechkin. The Penguins once again have two bona-fide superstars as well, however they are not exactly the caliber that Jaromir Jagr and Mario Lemieux were, at least not just yet. The Penguins have Sydney Crosby, and Evgeni Malkin. While both are star caliber for sure, I personally would put them up there with the Pens two prior superstars, again, just yet. The only one that comes close in my mind, is the Caps Alexander Ovechkin. Ovechkin has taken the spotlight from the NHL's media darling in Sydney Crosby where it counts the most, with his on ice skills and heroics. Ovechkin is winning every individual award that Crosby and his fans wanted Sid the Kid to win, and is doing so with all the flair of a star the likes of which the NHL has not seen in decades, if ever.

Things have dramatically changed in the past two years for the Capitals. With the rebuild all but complete in Washington, the Capitals now find themselves in a position they have never been in... a serious contender for the Stanley Cup. Some believe they are just that, now. Some belive, that they are still a couple steps away from that. This series should go a long way to showing us all which mind set is the correct one at this juncture. A Caps win of this series, could go a long way towards propelling them deep into the post season, perhaps as deep as they went in 1998, and perhaps, just perhaps, all the way to Lord Stanley's Cup. But that my friends is a very big IF. The Penguins are a formidable opponent, and like the Caps are loaded with young talent that is just as hungry for a return trip for a second consecutive season, to the Stanley Cup finals.

There are plenty of "IFs" in this series . . . here are a couple of them to get you thinking:

If we thought Henrik Lundqvist was good in round one, then we should be very afraid of Marc-Andre Fleury. If Simeon Varlamov plays as good as he did against the Rangers, then the Pens should also be very afraid.

Could things finally be swinging in the Capitals favor after having lost 6 of 7 playoff series all time against a high powered Pittsburgh Penguins? Or, could the Penguins, who are once again high powered, and made another appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals last season be just too much for the Capitals? Could the Capitals finally be high powered enough to finally overcome thier nemisis? The last and only time the Caps beat the Pens in the playoffs was in the first round in the 1994 playoffs. The Capitals won that series 4 games to 2, and the Caps did not have home ice advantage that series. It all begins tomrrow at Verizon Center at 1PM EDT. Am I nervous about this series, you bet I am. That is partly why I am up at 5am writing this. However I also feel good. Our time, the Caps time, is coming, and hopefully it will start today at Verizon Center. I will be rocking my red, and humming a little tune by Journey that has kept me going the past couple of seasons. . . Dont stop... believin. . .


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Which team is the Capitals biggest threat in the Southeast division this season?