It’s going to be hard for Penguins vs. Capitals II to live up to the 1st edition.
Games 1 through 6 of that 2009 clash featured something amazing: both Pittsburgh and Washington led at least once in each game, and the teams were either tied or separated by one goal 92 percent of the time.
In Game 1, a Capitals 3-2 in in D.C., rookie sensation (for a little while) Semyon Varlamov stoned Sidney Crosby at the end of the second to keep the game 2-2, and Thomas Fleischmann had the game winner in the third.
In Game 2, it was of course the dueling Crosby and Ovechkin hat-trick game. The “Great 8” had two in the third to break a 2-2 tie, one a blast off a faceoff win and another through both Sergei Gonchar and Marc Andre Fleury.
Ovechkin scored just two minutes into Game 3, but Ruslan Fedotenko tied it in the second, Evgeni Malkin got off the schneid in the third, and Kris Letang’s overtime winner off of the immortal Milan Jurcina saved Pittsburgh from the brink.
Game 4 brought the controversial Ovie knee-on-knee hit of countrymate Gonchar, but the Pens prevailed 5-3 thanks to Varlamov’s glove getting suddenly leaky on another Fedotenko marker.
Game 5 was a tour-de-force, with Ovechkin tying the game 3-3 with four minutes to go, but Malkin getting the OT winner as Crosby drove the net (and after David Steckel missed an open cage with the winner on his tape).
Game 6 in Pittsburgh went the other way, as this time David Steckel won the overtime challenge.
And finally, Game 7 was a 6-2 Pittsburgh laugher, but with the signature save of the series as Fleury stoned Ovie on a breakaway to keep the Verizon Center roof from coming off.
Pens-Caps 2009 was quite simply one of the greatest series in Penguins history.
Can this year’s version live up to it?
Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom are back, and so are Sid and Geno. That’s a check in the familiarity column.
Dan Bylsma and Bruce Boudreau are replaced by Mike Sullivan and Barry Trotz, so the unproven coach storyline can still play.
The Penguins have the rookie goalie this year, if indeed Fleury still can’t return from his concussions … can “Matty Ice” surprise early in the series as Varlamov did in ’09?
The players-switching-teams angle is a nice add, with Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen, and Taylor Chorney donning red while Eric Fehr mans gold.
Washington’s neurosis at playing Pittsburgh haven’t gone anywhere, so yes on that front.
The role players? In 2009 for the Penguins it was Bill Guerin, Max Talbot, Matt Cooke, and even Miro Satan showed a pulse. For the Caps, part of their problem was that their depth didn’t show up: Alex Semin, Brooks Laich, Viktor Kozlov, and Mike Green, for instance.
For 2016 it’s guys like Matt Cullen, Conor Sheary, Carl Hagelin vs. Justin Williams, Tom Wilson and Jason Chimera. When starts cancel each out, those guys might indeed decide games.
But yes, there is always a depth storyline at play, and it’s part of what has made these two teams so strong in 2016.
Legacies are still at stake, perhaps even more so as the years and disappointments have piled up around Crosby and Ovechkin.
Throw in the departures of recent powerhouse Cup teams L.A. and Chicago in this year’s western bracket, and the path to a championship is there for the winner of this series.
So in a word, yes, 2016 can live up to the standard 2009 has set. The ingredients are in the kitchen, let’s all enjoy the feast.