Tonight’s the night we all knew was coming two weeks ago when the Penguins and Capitals faced off for the third time in the playoffs during the Crosby v. Ovechkin era. We knew it when the Pens were up 2-0 heading back to Pittsburgh and we still knew it when the series stood at 3-1 despite Sidney Crosby’s absence in Game 4. The inevitability remained. And now after a brutal beatdown by Washington in Game 6, we all get to witness the series-ending deathmatch whose winner will have a mostly clear and unencumbered path to winning the Stanley Cup. Not to mention a full year of bragging rights in this bitter, hate-filled rivalry that has blossomed over the last decade.
Game 7. In Washington. Will Pittsburgh’s playoff dominance continue or could the pendulum finally swing back in Washington’s favor after so many disappointing early exits?
The Penguins risk blowing two 2-game leads against their worst enemy. A loss in Game 7 would be their first playoff defeat to the Capitals in this century. It would also be an incredible missed opportunity for the Penguins to be the first team to repeat as Stanley Cup champions since the Red Wings did it in the late 90’s. Winning back-to-back Cups is notoriously difficult, but if the Penguins can somehow win this game, a third Stanley Cup for Sidney Crosby & Co. is within reach. They are well aware of the stakes.
While Pittsburgh attempts to keep the dream of a repeat alive, the Capitals are simply hoping to reach the conference finals for the first time since that Detroit team sealed their own repeat against Washington in 1998. Lofty aspirations of Lord Stanley’s Cup are not unfamiliar to the Caps as they are saddled with the constant reminder of being bounced early from the playoffs in each of the last eight years they’ve qualified for the postseason, and twice by these same Pittsburgh Penguins. Despite winning their division six times and the President’s Trophy three times, playoff success is never guaranteed.
Now if that doesn’t increase your heart rate even a little bit then you’re probably dead or a Flyers fan.
I have many friends who are Caps fans that I will not be speaking to tonight during the game. Not because I dislike them, but because there isn’t much to say in these situations. Emotions run high, the tension is palpable, and I’d rather not tell a close friend to GF themselves. Yet, once the final horn sounds and one of these two teams advance to the conference finals, I know that we will do our own version of the mid-ice handshake in honor of a hard-fought series.
God, I love sports.