As the Capitals traveling to Pittsburgh to take on the rival Penguins Tuesday (Coverage starts 6 p.m., NBC Sports Washington), there might be much more online than just two points in the standings.
The winners of the previous three Stanley Cups will fulfill in Tuesday’s game as the Caps won last season and the Penguins won in 2016 and 2017. In each of the three seasons, both Washington and Pittsburgh needed to play with one another in the postseason in their way to the tournament. However, as divisional competitions, the two teams had plenty of matchups from the regular season too.
The Caps have fared fairly well against their opponents from the regular season over the previous three decades. In the 2015-16 season, Washington handled a 2-2-1 record against the Penguins. That rose to 2-0-2 in 2016-17. Still, the results in the postseason remained the same with the Caps falling in the next round each year. Back in 2017-18, Washington went 2-2-0 from Pittsburgh, but defeated them at the playoffs for only the second time in franchise history.
While the general records do not shed much light, if you look a bit closer you discover that the last matchup of the season has proven key.
The Caps dropped on April 7 to the Penguins 4-3 in overtime. Marcus Johansson scored twice for Washington, but Sidney Crosby scored the overtime winner. In 2017, both groups met for the last time before in the season on Jan. 16 using the Caps losing in overtime , this time 8-7. Washington gave up a 3-0 lead as Evgeni Malkin tallied a hat trick along with Connor Sheary felt in overtime.
Things were different, but in 2018. With the Metropolitan Division up for grabs, Philipp Grubauer was brilliant on the net to lead the Caps to the 3-1 triumph.
So why does this matter? Since in each of the previous three seasons, the winner of the final regular-season meeting between both of these teams has gone on to win the Stanley Cup.
Maybe it’s a shame and it doesn’t matter. But perhaps a late-season match with significant implications against a bitter rival in a playoff atmosphere is a good test of where a team stands heading into the postseason.
The New York Islanders sit only two points behind Washington for first place in the Metropolitan Division. Behind them, Pittsburgh is tied for third with the Carolina Hurricanes. Not only would a loss for the Caps hurt them in the division race, but it also produces a first-round matchup from the Penguins quite possible.
Tuesday’s game is huge concerning the standings, but make no mistake, this game is about a great deal more than just those 2 points.
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