Capitals eager to face Penguins for first time since Game 7

The Capitals and Penguins boast dueling superstars in Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby and have split their last eight regular-season games, but where it counts -- in the postseason -- Pittsburgh has prevailed seven of eight times.
Washington Post staff writer
Thursday, January 21, 2010

Tom Poti thought he had finally pushed the painful memory of the Washington Capitals' Game 7 collapse against the Pittsburgh Penguins into the deep recesses of his mind. But about three weeks later, the veteran defenseman discovered he had not buried it deep enough.

"Just when you're starting to get over it, you see them hoisting the Cup, and it kind of started all over again," Poti said Monday, nearly eight months after Penguins captain Sidney Crosby and his teammates beat the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup finals. "You start thinking, 'What if we beat them? Could that have been us?' "

For Poti and many of his teammates, the only thing more excruciating than the what-ifs that consumed them during the quiet moments in the offseason has been the 253 days NHL schedule-makers forced them to wait before facing their arch rival again.

The Capitals are already done with New Jersey, Toronto and Philadelphia, but Thursday's trip to Mellon Arena will mark the first of four meetings between Washington and Pittsburgh.

"I don't know what the emotion is going to be like," Coach Bruce Boudreau said, shrugging. "But to win anything, we know you're going to have to go through Pittsburgh this year. It will be a tremendous measuring stick and it will let us see where we stand. I know they're going to feel the same way."

To fully grasp why this game means so much to the Capitals, one must first understand what they suffered through during and after the 6-2 loss at Verizon Center on May 13. One of the best playoff series in recent memory -- one that included dueling hat tricks by Alex Ovechkin and Crosby in Game 2, David Steckel's overtime goal in Game 6, Marc-André Fleury's infamous save on an Ovechkin breakaway in Game 7 -- ended with a whimper. By the middle of the second period, the Capitals were down 5-0.

Instead of breaking Pittsburgh's postseason hex, Washington suffered its seventh series defeat in eight playoff appearances against its longtime nemesis.

"We've never mentioned it from the beginning of the year on," Boudreau said. "We got over it. It's done. We lost and we played like [garbage]. I know everyone would like to take it back because the series was such a great series. It should have been a 4-3 overtime game win by them, or by us. It didn't happen that way. So a lot of good work by us went down the drain."

Boudreau said he couldn't bring himself to watch a recording of the game until mid-June. And even then, he turned it off twice, just after Crosby opened the scoring, before "gutting it out" and watching all the way through.

"It was as bad as it was the first time," he said. "It was a 'Woe is me, what could have been?' type thing."

Ovechkin still has not watched it. Neither has Shaone Morrisonn.

"Why would I want to?" Morrisonn said. "That's in the past."

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