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The greatest game ever played? Remembering Caps-Penguins from Super Bowl Sunday 2010

The greatest game ever played? Remembering Caps-Penguins from Super Bowl Sunday 2010

The Capitals-Penguins rivalry has changed quite a bit over the past year. When you look at the great moments of that rivalry, most Caps fans will think no further than the 2018 series when the Caps finally got over their playoff hump with a series clinching overtime goal from Evgeny Kuznetsov in Game 6.

The 2018 series certainly had its share of great moments, but Caps-Penguins did not begin and end in 2018. Let’s not forget some of the great moments these two teams shared before that.

A new chapter to the Caps-Penguins rivalry will be written on Wednesday as the two teams meet in Washington for the first time this season (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).  NBC Sports Washington will be counting down the 10 best moments from the rivalry through all our pre and postgame coverage starting with Caps FaceOff Live at 6:30 p.m.

To get you ready for the countdown and Wednesday’s game, let me tell you about one of my favorite Caps-Penguins memories. It was the greatest game I’ve ever seen.

Because of my job covering the Capitals for NBC Sports Washington, I got to see every home game in the 2018 Stanley Cup game in person. There were so many great games and moments from that run and I will always remember that postseason, but the greatest game I ever saw did not happen in the 2018 playoffs.

Heck, it didn’t happen in the playoffs at all.

The year was 2010. A 5-4 shootout win over the Florida Panthers on Jan. 13 was the first of what would turn into the longest win streak in Capitals franchise history. Washington would win all of the nine remaining games in the month of January and the first three of February to extend the win streak to 13. That streak was on the line on Sunday, Feb. 7 when the Pittsburgh Penguins came to town.

The attendance for the game on Feb. 7 was said to be over 18,000. I can tell you, it wasn’t close to that. This game happened in the wake of “Snowmadgeddon,” a snow storm that dumped two feet of snow around the area. The arena wasn’t empty by any means, but there were more empty seats than would be normal for a rivalry game of this magnitude. With the game on Super Bowl Sunday and mountains of snow all over the city, a lot of people chose to stay home that day rather than make the trek to what was then known as the Verizon Center. 

To me, it didn’t matter how much snow there was. The Caps were playing the Penguins and I had tickets. There was no way I was going to miss it. My dad and I got into his jeep, turned on the four-wheel drive and carefully made our way into the city.

This game had everything. It was another offensive duel between Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, it had great saves, great goals, breakaways, odd-man rushes, big hits, fights, a hat trick, everything you could ever want in a hockey game.

In the first period, Sidney Crosby drew first blood with two goals.

Crosby. It had to be Crosby. By the end of the first period, the Caps trailed 2-0.

But Alex Ovechkin would not be outdone. Midway through the second period he scored on a breakaway with a perfect shot that knocked apart the net camera behind goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. I remember seeing the camera explode with Ovechkin’s shot and the arena exploded with it.

But the crowd was silenced once more as Jordan Staal would score twice to pull Pittsburgh ahead 4-1.

That’s when the despair began to set in. It had to be Pittsburgh, didn’t it? The win streak was going to come to an end at the hands of those damn Penguins and yet another black mark would be added to the chapter of a rivalry that was already full of them.

Eric Fehr would score to make it 4-2 before the end of the second and then Ovechkin took over.

In the third period, Ovechkin pulled the Caps within one as a shot hit off of then Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik and to Ovechkin’s feet and he quickly swept a quick backhand shot through the five-hole of Fleury. Less than five minutes later, he fired a one-timer off the faceoff to complete the hat trick.

Tie game.

The arena may not have been full to capacity, but I’m not sure it has ever been louder in a regular season game than it was at that moment. Somehow Ovechkin and the Caps had tied what looked like a lost game and forced overtime.

On the power play with a chance to win it, the Caps set up the offense with Mike Knuble right in the face of Fleury. Fleury gave Knuble a chop with the goalie stick in the back of the leg that sent him to the ice. No call. Injustice, pure and simple. Washington continued on the power play and Mike Green set up Ovechkin for the one-timer from the office.

The shot beat Fleury, the horn went off, the crowd went berserk...but the puck never actually got past the goal line. Instead it hit off the post and bounced back underneath Fleury. Fleury desperately tried to cover the puck, but Knuble was faster with the stick, tapping the loose puck underneath Fleury and in.

Game over.

That game was the 14th straight win for the Caps, which still stands as the longest winning streak in franchise history. Fittingly, the streak ended the next game as the Caps fell in overtime to the Montreal Canadiens.

As I sit here and write my memories from that game, I could go on and on. There are few games I remember as vividly as this one. The historical significance, the rivalry, the emotions ranging from despair, to hopeful, to jubilation – I remember all of it.

When you watch hockey long enough, there are always gems that emerge as great games. But to me, this game stands alone. I had never seen anything like it before or since. It truly was the greatest game I’ve ever seen.

But where does it rank in the list of the 10 greatest moments of the Caps-Penguins rivalry? Be sure to tune in to NBC Sports Washington for coverage of Wednesday’s game as we count down.

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Capitals at Maple Leafs: Time, TV Channel, Live

Capitals at Maple Leafs: Time, TV Channel, Live

The Washington Capitals headed up north to face the Maple Leafs on Thursday at 7 p.m. ET. The Caps are second in the Metropolitan Division with a record of 33-20-7, while the Maple Leafs fourth in the Atlantic Division with a record of 36-19-4. This season, the Capitals lost to the Maple Leafs 4-2 in October

The Maple Leafs are hoping to end their two-game losing streak during Thursday evening’s game.

Here is everything you need to know about Thursday’s game, which will begin at 7 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Washington.

CAPITALS at MAPLE LEAFS HOW TO WATCH

What: Washington Capitals at Toronto Maple Leafs, Game 61 of the 2018-19 NHL Regular Season
Where: Scotiabank Arena, Toronto, Canada
When: Thursday, Feb. 21, 7 p.m. ET
TV Channel: The Capitals at Maple Leafs game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (Channel Finder Link)
Live Stream: You can live stream Capitals at Maple Leafs on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and on the NBC Sports App.
Radio: Caps 24/7 Radio, 106.7 The Fan FM


CAPITALS at MAPLE LEAFS TV SCHEDULE

6:00 PM: Caps Faceoff Live
6:30 PM: Caps Pregame Live
7:00 PM: Capitals at Maple Leafs
9:30 P.M.: Caps Postgame Live
10:00 P.M.: Caps Overtime Live


CAPITALS at MAPLE LEAFS INJURY REPORT

Capitals: 
T.J. Oshie -- upper body as of Feb. 18

Maple Leafs: 
Nazem Kadri -- concussion as of Feb. 18
Nathan Horton -- back injury as of Sept. 16

CAPITALS at MAPLE LEAFS PLAYERS TO WATCH

Jakub Vrana, C, Capitals (18 goals, 19 assists, 37 points): Vrana has been “flying recently,” NBC Sports Washington’s J.J. Reagan wrote in Wednesday’s Capitals mailbag. He’s consistently had one assist per game, contributing to the Caps’ on-and-off wins throughout February. 

Alex Ovechkin, F, Capitals (42 goals, 27 assists, 69 points): Ovi scored two power play goals on Monday against the Los Angeles Kings. Additionally, the team captain scored twice in 20 seconds, Reagan wrote following the game. The last time the Caps played the Leafs, however, Toronto blocked seven of Ovi’s shots and 12 from other Capitals, Reagan wrote. 


CAPITALS vs. MAPLE LEAFS SERIES HISTORY

Number of all-time Meetings: 152
All-Time Series Record: Capitals lead 77-65-10
Last Meeting: Toronto won 4-2 (10/13/18)

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Capitals mailbag: What do the Caps need at the trade deadline?

Capitals mailbag: What do the Caps need at the trade deadline?

It’s time for the weekly Capitals mailbag! Check out the Feb. 20 edition below.

Have a Caps question you want answered for next week’s mailbag? Send it on Twitter using #CapsMailNBC or by email to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com.

Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.

Greg C. writes: Last year, we heard a lot about the Caps pulling on the rope together. Are things different this year? If so, why aren't they pulling on the rope together this year?

There are a lot of nervous Caps fans out there over the way this season has gone and that has led to some speculation like this, that the team isn’t all on the same page.

To answer your question Greg, there are two things that are different this year. First, this team is the defending Stanley Cup champions. Going all the way and returning almost the exact same roster made many believe Washington would blow through this season, but they haven’t. As a result, that has led to the assumption that there is some underlying problem with the team that’s holding them back, whether it be coaching, lack of effort, fatigue, etc.

In reality, the Caps are about on pace with where they were last year. In the 2017-18 season, the Caps were 34-19-7 through 60 games. This year, they are 33-20-7 through 60, just two points off from last year’s pace. It only feels like they are worse off and that leads me to the second thing that is different from last year and that is the seven-game losing streak.

When the Caps hit their low point last season, it came in consecutive blowout losses to the Nashville Predators and Colorado Avalanche. This year, it came in the form of a seven-game losing streak which made it feel much, much worse, like trying to delicately peel off a band aid instead of just ripping it off quickly.

From my talks with players on the team, the only thing I really get the sense that the team is frustrated about is the constant shuffling on the fourth line, but it sure seems with all the wavier news on Wednesday that problem is about to go away.

Not very. As I pointed out above, Washington is just two points off its pace from last season. Despite losing seven games in a row, losing Tom Wilson for 16-games due to suspension, Evgeny Kuznetsov’s slump and not having their full lineup until February, the Caps are still in second place in the division. Five points is all that separates them from Carolina, the first team out of playoff position, but I do not believe Washington is going to get passed by two teams in the division and two wild card teams in just 22 games.

I think there is definitely something to the “target on the back” theory. The thing that makes it so exhausting is that this was not something that teams think about just in the first month of the season and move on. It is Every. Single. Night. It does not matter to anyone that Washington had that losing streak, until they are eliminated they remain the team to beat. Now that we are in the latter part of the season, teams are still using the Caps as a measuring stick for the playoffs. Think Tampa Bay, far and away the top team in the NHL this season, doesn’t have those three games against Washington in March circled in their calendar? You can bet that is going to be a big talking point when these teams meet up.

Brian MacLellan has traded for at least one defenseman every year at the trade deadline so yes, I would expect him to add to the blue line this year given the team’s struggles on defense. As for shooting, Caps fans get frustrated by this theory, but Washington intentionally limits their shots on goal, focusing on shot quality over quantity. It can get frustrating to watch at times and there are definitely times when some players don’t seem to realize that a low-danger shot on goal is better than a turnover, but the team won a Stanley Cup with this theory so they are not likely to change now.

For more on how the Caps developed this shooting philosophy, you can ready my article on it here.

The answer to your question about faster players is maybe. Elliotte Friedman wrote in his 31 Thoughts column on Tuesday about teams that have checked in on Marcus Johansson and he said “possibly Washington.” Though I have my reservations about brining Johansson back, one thing he would certainly add is speed.

Jay Beagle was great on the faceoff and the Caps certainly miss him, especially on the penalty kill. In the playoffs, he took a majority of the team’s faceoffs on the penalty kill and won a whopping 64.3-percent of them. But I ultimately don’t think faceoffs are going to be a huge priority when it comes to the trade deadline.

Even with Beagle taking so many shorthanded faceoffs, he took 306 faceoffs in the playoffs last year, fewer than Nicklas Backstrom (323), Evgeny Kuznetsov (325) and Lars Eller (330). Ultimately the team’s issues at the dot are going to have to be figured out by their top three centers unless they can find a player who is both strong on the faceoff and a good penalty killer as well.

Not sure I agree with you on this one. Evgeny Kuznetsov and Jakub Vrana are the two fastest players on the team and both are in the top six. Vrana in particular has been flying lately and drew two penalties Monday against Los Angeles because of his speed.

The fourth line has been constantly shuffled and the third line began clicking only recently so I do not believe Todd Reirden has enough faith in either line to give them larger roles.

As for switching out players in the top six, who would you move to the bottom six out of Kuznetsov, Backstrom, Vrana, T.J. Oshie, Tom Wilson and Alex Ovechkin? The only move I would consider there is moving Oshie down to the third. He and Eller have great chemistry and I believe Oshie would benefit from getting less ice time, but is there enough faith in either Andre Burakovsky or Brett Connolly to move either player to the second line? That seems doubtful.

I went back and ran the numbers and you are correct, Braden Holtby seems to face more shots than Pheonix Copley. Holtby faces about 31 shots per game, while Copley usually sees about 29 per game. The difference is relatively small, but still large enough to suggest the team plays a bit looser defensively with Holtby in net. It was the same last year as Holtby again averaged about 31 shots per game, but Philipp Grubauer faced only about 27.

There is nothing fundamentally different about how the team approaches the game with either netminder, I think this simply speaks to the level of confidence the players have in Holtby. They may be a tad more focused on keeping shots away from Copley than they are with Holtby knowing they have one of the best netminders in the league between the pipes.

Jimmy H. writes: Brooks Orpik is beloved in D.C. and he loves D.C. Do you see him possibly moving into a coaching position within the organization after he hangs his skates up?

I definitely see Orpik as someone who could coach or get into management. He is always very thoughtful with his answers whenever I speak to him and, when you talk to the other defensemen, it’s clear how much they respect Orpik’s knowledge of the game. Will that be in Washington? I can’t say. A lot of getting into the business is about timing and it may just be a matter of whether there is a position open for him or not. But a big thing for him in the offseason was that he wanted to stay put for his family which is why he chose to re-sign with Washington. When he does retire, I think his first goal will be staying in the area at least a few years while his daughters are still young so yes, I do think it is possible Orpik remains with the organization in some capacity when he decides to hang up the skates.

Thanks for all your questions! If you have a question you want to be read and answered in next week’s mailbag, send it in to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com or use #CapsMailNBC on Twitter.

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