Capitals Correspondent Brad Parker returns with a vengeance.
The Capitals and Penguins faceoff for the first time this season tonight at 7 p.m. We all know it’s the best rivalry in the sport right now, and we despise those guys from Pittsburgh. But it’s early and we just want to make sure that our vitriol is in midseason form. So here, in no particular order, are five of the many reasons our hatred is justified.
1. Matt Cooke
Without a doubt he is the dirtiest cheap-shot artist in the National Hockey League. And yes, he’s a former Capital. Look him up on YouTube and you’ll find an endless series of flying elbows to the head and dangerous knee-to-knee collisions that are clearly intentional and meant to injure. He’s a felon on par with Oggie Oglethorpe.
Last February, as the Penguins owner was complaining to the league about Sidney Crosby being injured by “dirty” hits, he was actually signing Matt Cooke’s paychecks with a straight face. Then Cookie reminded us all what a true goon looks like.
Stunningly, Cooke enters Thursday night’s game with more goals scored (3) than penalty minutes (2) this season. That will not be the case by the time we go to bed tonight.
2. The Playoffs
Rivalries are born in the playoffs and this one started with the teams meeting five times in the postseason from 1991-96. The overall history between these teams in the playoffs is brutal.
1991 Pittsburgh 4-1
1992 Pittsburgh 4-3
1994 Washington 4-2
1995 Pittsburgh 4-3
1996 Pittsburgh 4-2
2000 Pittsburgh 4-1
2001 Pittsburgh 4-2
2009 Pittsburgh 4-3
Eight series, seven times the Caps were sent to the golf course. If that was the whole story it would be bad, but you could deal with it. Unfortunately it’s much worse than that. Three times the Caps have lead 2-0 only to lose the series. Twice they’ve held 3-1 leads and lost. But even that doesn’t tell the whole story.
There have been epic series. In ’09 three of the seven games went to OT. And there was the double-hat trick game that led to Crosby whining about hats.
The ’96 series is famous for the epic four-OT game, but what many forget is what happened in the next game. You know that gap between the benches where the sideline reporter hangs out, it’s partially there because of that game:
3. Jaromir Jagr
Most of those losses in the ’90s were a direct result of the stellar play of Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr.
After suffering through a decade of Pittsburgh dominance, the Caps and their new owner Ted Leonsis thought they had finally figured out how to break the curse (There has to be some curse on the Caps right? Maybe the curse of Les Boulez rubbed off on them from sharing a building.) They traded Kris Beech, Michal Sivek and Ross Lupaschuk (seriously, those were the guys’ names) for Jagr and Frantisek Kucera. Of course, it didn’t work as planned. Suddenly Jagr was no longer the best player on the planet. After 2 ½ mediocre seasons he was traded to the Rangers for Anson Carter, and the Caps had to agree to continue to pay $1M of his salary.
He was so easy to hate as Penguin. I tried my best to tolerate him as a Cap. It’s just perfect that he’s back as a Flyer.
4. Sid vs. Ovi
One is a whiny complainer that gets every call and has the media eating out of his hand, yet still demands more. The other is Alex Ovechkin.
One consistently leads the league in goals and hits. The other needs Matt Cooke to take out opponents knees and heads for him.
One wins Stanley Cups and Olympic gold medals (despite playing poorly for 99% of the tournament). The other is Alex Ovechkin.
One is a boring piece of plain white toast with nothing on it that lives in his owner’s house. The other is Alex Ovechkin.
I’ll take Alex Ovechkin.
5. They Are Who We Wish We Were
It’s incredibly difficult to write, but it’s true. Most of the pain we’ve suffered over the years has been inflicted by the Penguins. Despite all the reasons above, they win Stanley Cups and we do not. Yet. Until we finally do, they are the team we want to be.