Let's Go Caps
As a long-suffering Washington Caps fan who has watched countless good Caps teams go down in flames early in the playoffs, last night's tough victory over the Rangers was more exuberant relief than anything else. As a fan who still rues the day the NHL realigned the divisions and took the Caps out of the old Patrick Division, beating an old Patrick Division foe was especially gratifying. Caps fans like me who learned to love hockey by watching intense divisional encounters with the Rangers, Islanders, Flyers, and Penguins have had great trouble replacing these rivalries with the Canes, Thrashers, Bolts, and Panthers in intensity. But come playoff time, seasoned Caps fans are allowed to have the rivalry juices flow again when we tend to meet our more traditional rivals. Last year, it was the hated Flyers. This time, it was the Rangers. But unlike last year, this year we move on.
Next comes the Pens. The Pens are to the Caps what Spurrier's Florida was to Georgia and Tennessee, what Michael Jordan was to Cleveland, and what Babe Ruth was to the Red Sox. Namely, not just a competitor, but a tormentor. In 7 playoff series between the Caps and Pens, the Pens have won 6. Moreover, it's not just that the overall outcome in the series has been lopsided, it's also the manner in which each individual series was lost that continues to bewitch the Caps fan base. In many of the 6 series losses, the Caps outplayed the Pens early in the series, only to have the Pens find their composure, unnerve the Caps, and pull it out in the end. There was no question that the Pens mystique got into the heads of the Caps players, organization and fan base.
But now, a new slate of players from both sides is poised to renew the rivalry. To what extent have they embraced the history of the rivalry? They would probably say it's old news and irrelevant, and maybe it is. But for this Caps fan, heartache isn't easily forgotten, particularly when it's been inflicted by the same tormentor over and over again. On paper, the two teams are about even. But I fear that in reality, the matchup is as lopsided as this rivalry's playoff history. I hope I'm wrong; I desperately hope I'm wrong. But I think the Pens win in 5.