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When the Caps Beat the Pens in the Playoffs

Fans don't change. (By Len Redkoles - Getty)

For all the Tale of the Tape stuff with the superstars in this series, I still haven't seen a better stat-filled sentence than this one, from Japers Rink:

Ninety-two of the series has been played with the teams either tied or with one team holding a one-goal lead (the Caps have had a one-goal lead for 89:11, the Pens for 87:25), and there hasn't yet been a three-goal lead for either squad.

That's close. And that's also in line with the recent playoff history between these two clubs. Yeah yeah, different players, different eras, etc., but still: 14 of the last 16 playoff games between Washington and Pittsburgh have been decided by a single goal, six in overtime. Regardless of what happens tonight, the Caps have now played more playoff overtimes against the Penguins than any against other franchise. (It's 10 right now; next is vs. the Islanders with eight and vs. the Flyers with six.)

The last three times the franchises have met in the playoffs, the deciding game has been decided by a single goal, with the deciders all playing for Pittsburgh: Martin Straka (Game 6 of 2001), Jaromir Jagr (Game 5 of 2000) and Ron Francis (Game 6 of 1996).

But there was a time when the deciders were more decisive (and yeah, I'm just killing time). Three of the team's four previous playoff meetings were decided by three goals. Caps fans get mad when reminded of bad memories with potential joy on the horizon, so I'll ignore the bad ones and just go straight to April 27, 1994. Game 6 of the quarterfinals. Wednesday night in D.C. P.G. The only time Washington got the better of Pittsburgh in the playoffs. Some highlight's from the media coverage that week.


Best Quote: "All that stuff, I'm not even listening to it," said Capitals center Joe Juneau, who scored the game's first goal, when asked about the team's disappointing playoff history. "I'm new here and a lot of guys are new. You just can't live in the past. It's funny. Everybody was talking, 'Oh, here we go again. The Caps are going to lose after being up 3-1.' Nobody in here was even thinking about it. Our coach [Jim Schoenfeld] even talked about it. He said, 'The past has nothing to do with us.' "

Best Anecdote: After the Caps got up in that series, Schoenfeld wrote the following advice on the team's white board: Never lift your foot off a snake." The line came from a pal of Schoenfeld's, a racquetball pro and card fiend who had once loaned money at the card table to a friend who was broke and unable to call a raise.

"So, Sonny loaned him the money to stay in the hand," Schoenfeld explained to reporters. "The guy went on to win that hand. They continued to play and he went on to clean out everybody at the table, including Sonny. Sonny stood up at the end, looked at the guy and said, 'Never lift your foot off a snake.' "

Best Gloating: Courtesy Tom Boswell, who, along with Dick Patrick, Michael Wilbon, Ron Cook, Dave Molinari, Dan Daly and Mario Lemiux, is one of the many holdovers from that series. Boswell's words:

Take that lame Capitals Curse and leave it out with the morning garbage. Stack it right next to the rest of the trash -- including those 20 black-and-gold uniforms that Mario Lemieux and the rest of the haughty Pittsburgh Penguins won't need any more this season.....
"We ran 'em right out of the rink," said the Caps' Kelly Miller. Pick yourself up off the floor, because he's right....

In perhaps the most symbolically important game in franchise history, a Caps team that has so often come up small in the biggest playoff games suddenly produced a monster of a clutch performance.

Angriest Rant: Courtesy Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Among other lines, "Consider where the Penguins are now. They were outplayed by the mediocre New York Islanders last spring in the second round of the playoffs. They were eliminated this spring in the first round by the equally mediocre Washington Capitals. There will be no dynasty. The Penguins had a chance to be one of the NHL's all-time great teams. They failed the challenge miserably."

Second Angriest Rant: Courtesy Gene Collier of the same. Among other lines, "The debt Patrick owes the Capitals lies in the shrieking clarity of the series that ended here last night with the Penguins flopping about on the soft ice of 90-degree suburban Washington. The Caps whipped Pittsburgh 6-3 and more than won this Eastern Conference quarterfinal four games to two; they illuminated these post-greatness Pens to maximum definition. This is a Penguins team as close to winning another Stanley Cup as it is to winning 20 U.S. Senate seats."

Best Evergreen Headline: The Washington Times, game-day, went with this: "Caps must overcome Penguins - and history." Fifteen years and a couple weeks later, The Washington Times, game-day, went with this: "Capitals hope to vanquish bad history against Penguins."

Best Foreshadowing: Michael Wilbon? I mean, who knows. But you could cut and paste some of these words tonight, possibly, if you really wanted, and if things go right. Wilbon's words:

Perhaps the toughest thing in sports is to successfully fight off the notion that you're a loser. And though it will take considerably more than beating the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Washington Capitals took a major step toward becoming something other than losers by winning this...playoff series....

If failing to acknowledge a history they weren't part of will help create a new mind-set and propel the Capitals further into the playoffs, then by all means the coach and the new star player should continue to tell anyone who will listen that what happened here the previous 12 seasons is foreign to them.

But the fact is, for everyone else this is the same club....You see, the community can't just say, "Hey, that was then, we weren't part of that," because everybody here has been a part of it.

Best Fans: Wilbon wrote that there were 3,000 or so unsold seats for the deciding game in the Cap Centre. The Game 3 crowd in Pittsburgh was 15,044, the team's smallest of the season.

Best Letter-to-the-Editor: Jeez, the PPG is cleaning up. I'm not sure exactly what this was about, but it was awesome:

To quote Mr. Collier in reference to poor Iceburgh: ''God bless him, he's improving, but right now he's about as funny as a yeast infection.'' As a woman, I was offended by that statement. I'm almost positive some men were offended as well because I recognized from experience they shudder at such ''feminine terms.''

I understand Mr. Collier was trying to prove a point, but there's no sense in offending 99.9 percent of the female population in doing so. Doesn't he think women read the sports page or what? Someday I'd like to write for the sports page and believe me, you won't find terms such as impotence, jock itch or proctologist in my articles.

Best Postcript: David Miness, a Pittsburgh art student, charged that he was punched by Penguins D Peter Taglianetti and head-butted by John Welday, the team's strength coach, at a bar two days after the team was eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs. G Tom Barrasso, meanwhile, faced a charge of making terroristic threats to Miness.

Police said Miness was treated for a broken nose and bruises on his neck, stomach and back. Other bar patrons said several Penguins were walking around the bar bumping into customers and spilling drinks. The incident followed a team season-end party.

By Dan Steinberg  |  May 13, 2009; 12:43 PM ET
Categories:  Caps  
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Next: Zimmerman Dooms Streak By Doing ESPN


The Pens are thugs -- and that includes your son, Mrs. Taglianetti.

Posted by: the_ocho | May 13, 2009 1:12 PM | Report abuse

Boz, I beg you, write this tonight:

"Take that lame Capitals Curse and leave it out with the morning garbage. Stack it right next to the rest of the trash -- including those 20 white-and-gold uniforms that Sidney crosby and the rest of the haughty Pittsburgh Penguins won't need any more this season....."

Posted by: RedBirdie | May 13, 2009 1:24 PM | Report abuse

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