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.
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.
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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