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Tonight on NBCSN: Penguins-Capitals is now a battle to get in the playoffs

Pittsburgh Penguins v Washington Capitals

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 01: Members of the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins are separated during the third period at Verizon Center on December 1, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

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It wasn’t that long ago that a Penguins-Capitals game would be circled by lovers and haters everywhere as the one to watch. Tonight’s game on NBCSN (7:30 p.m. ET) instead shapes up as one between teams looking to stay in the top eight in the Eastern Conference.

There’s still stars to be found even without Sidney Crosby. Alex Ovechkin is there for Washington although Nicklas Backstrom is still questionable after getting elbowed in the face by Rene Bourque. Evgeni Malkin is still scoring goals for Pittsburgh while Jordan Staal and Crosby are out. James Neal’s broken foot isn’t as broken as they thought it was and he’s still out there.

The sad part here though is that you don’t get the same buzz on this game that you used to.

The Pens are coming off a humbling loss at the hands of the Senators last night while the Caps are back at home after getting whooped on a short west coast trip that saw them lose back-to-back games 5-2 to the Kings and Sharks. When you look at the standings and expect to see the Caps and Pens at the top of the East, it’s a bit stunning to see them hovering around eighth and tenth instead. What a difference a year makes.

Seeing these two duke it out as the class of the East in the past brought the best out of both of them. Perhaps seeing them fight it out for a spot in the postseason can do likewise as they’ll see each other again in 11 days on NBC.