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Capitals, Penguins set to face off in uniquely vital matchup


The rivalry between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins has supplied the NHL with a few of its most entertaining, celebrated and consequential head-to-head matchups of the final 15 years. With generational stars Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby main their respective groups, hockey followers have watched on as they’ve jockeyed for playoff positioning for a decade and a half.

It is a rivalry that shall be renewed Thursday when the Capitals host Pittsburgh for the second of three conferences this season. The Penguins gained the primary contest 4-1 on Nov. 9 in a sport that proved to be a turning level for Pittsburgh. After snapping a seven-game winless streak with that win, the Penguins have gone 20-9-6 to climb again into playoff place.

Washington has skilled an analogous turnaround, following up a tumultuous begin with considered one of its greatest calendar months of the final 5 years in December. Although they’ve cooled off a bit up to now in January, the Capitals will enter Thursday’s sport tied with the Penguins for the highest Wild Card spot within the East at 56 factors.

Pittsburgh could have the possibility to clinch the season collection with a win at Capital One Enviornment. Whereas head-to-head victories aren’t an important tiebreaker — they’re fifth out of seven tiebreakers — the Capitals want each win they’ll recover from the groups subsequent to them within the standings. Washington has already performed 50 video games, tied for essentially the most within the NHL. The Penguins have three video games in hand, giving them the benefit in compiling factors down the stretch.

For the primary time within the careers of Ovechkin and Crosby, the Capitals and Penguins are preventing for his or her postseason lives on the similar time. Since 2007-08, not less than considered one of them have been division champions 12 of the final 15 seasons. Within the 9 seasons with the present playoff format, they by no means have each completed as Wild Card groups.

Proper now, the Penguins maintain the primary tiebreaker over the Capitals as a result of their increased level share. Nonetheless, Washington has a slight edge in each regulation wins (21-20) and regulation plus additional time wins (25-23), the subsequent two tiebreakers. A victory Thursday would assist achieve some buffer in these classes for when the Penguins make up these further video games later.

The Penguins aren’t the one staff the Capitals have to fret about. Heading into Wednesday’s slate, the Buffalo Sabers (53 factors), Florida Panthers (52) and New York Islanders (51) all sit inside 5 factors of Washington and Pittsburgh. They’re additionally inside attain of the New York Rangers (59), who sit in third place within the Metro.

As vital as it’s simply to make it into the postseason, it could be equally essential to keep away from the second Wild Card spot. The East’s final staff in shall be pitted in opposition to the Boston Bruins (80) within the first spherical.

Boston has 14 extra factors than every other staff within the NHL and leads the league in each objectives for (181) and fewest objectives in opposition to (98). Its plus-83 purpose differential almost doubles the next-closest staff within the Dallas Stars, who owns a determine of plus-42.

That is all to say a win Thursday might go a good distance towards serving to both the Capitals or the Penguins within the standings come April. Well being shall be an element, significantly for Washington after it performed Tuesday with out Nicklas Backstrom (non-COVID sickness) and noticed Tom Wilson depart early after blocking a shot along with his leg. Whereas the Penguins acquired star defenseman Kris Letang again from a month-long absence Tuesday, beginning goaltender Tristan Jarry is out till after the All-Star Break with an upper-body harm.

There have been many vital matchups between the Capitals and Penguins through the years, however for the primary time on this period they are going face to face whereas preventing to make sure they get into the postseason.

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