As the Capitals travel to Pittsburgh to take on the rival Penguins Tuesday (Coverage starts 6 p.m., NBC Sports Washington), there might be much more on the line than just two points in the standings.
The champions of the last three Stanley Cups will fulfill in Tuesday’s match as the Caps won final year and the Penguins won in 2016 and 2017. In each of the three seasons, Washington and Pittsburgh had to play with one another from the postseason on their way to the tournament. However, as divisional competitions, the two teams had plenty of matchups in the regular season as well.
The Caps have fared pretty well against their opponents in the regular season over the previous 3 years. At the 2015-16 season, Washington managed a 2-2-1 record against the Penguins. That rose to 2-0-2 in 2016-17. Yet, the results in the postseason remained the same with the Caps falling at the next round each year. 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 overall records don’t shed much light, if you look a little closer you find that the last matchup of the season has proven key.
In 2016, the Caps fell on April 7. Marcus Johansson scored double for Washington, but Sidney Crosby scored the overtime winner. In 2017, both teams met for the final time before in the summer on Jan. 16 using the Caps losing in overtime again, now 8-7. Washington gave up a 3-0 lead as Evgeni Malkin tallied a hat trick and Connor Sheary scored in overtime.
Things were different, but in 2018. With the Metropolitan Division very much 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 this closing regular-season meeting between both of these teams has gone on to win the Stanley Cup.
Maybe it is a shame and it does not matter. But perhaps a late-season match with major implications against a bitter rival at a playoff air is a good test of where a group stands heading into the postseason.
The New York Islanders sit only two points behind Washington for first place at the Metropolitan Division. Behind these, Pittsburgh is tied for third with the Carolina Hurricanes. Not only could a reduction for the Caps hurt them at the division race, but in addition, it produces a first-round matchup from the Penguins very possible.
Tuesday’s game is enormous in terms of the standings, but make no mistake, this game is about a great deal more than simply those two points.
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