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Capitals, Penguins set to face off in uniquely necessary 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 will likely be renewed Thursday when the Capitals host Pittsburgh for the second of three conferences this season. The Penguins received the primary contest 4-1 on Nov. 9 in a recreation 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 identical turnaround, following up a tumultuous begin with one among its greatest calendar months of the final 5 years in December. Although they’ve cooled off a bit thus far in January, the Capitals will enter Thursday’s recreation tied with the Penguins for the highest Wild Card spot within the East at 56 factors.

Pittsburgh can have the possibility to clinch the season sequence with a win at Capital One Enviornment. Whereas head-to-head victories aren’t a vital 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 probably 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 combating for his or her postseason lives on the identical time. Since 2007-08, a minimum of one among 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 resulting from their increased level proportion. Nevertheless, Washington has a slight edge in each regulation wins (21-20) and regulation plus additional time wins (25-23), the following two tiebreakers. A victory Thursday would assist acquire some buffer in these classes for when the Penguins make up these additional video games later.

The Penguins aren’t the one crew 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 necessary as it’s simply to make it into the postseason, it could be equally crucial to keep away from the second Wild Card spot. The East’s final crew in will likely be pitted towards the Boston Bruins (80) within the first spherical.

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

That is all to say a win Thursday may go a great distance towards serving to both the Capitals or the Penguins within the standings come April. Well being will likely be an element, notably 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 obtained 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 necessary matchups between the Capitals and Penguins over time, however for the primary time on this period they are going face to face whereas combating to make sure they get into the postseason.

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