The Washington Capitals claimed seven of eight possible points against the Pittsburgh Penguins last season, but as they prepare to meet for the first time in 2009-10 that won’t be what’s on the mind of Alex Ovechkin(notes) and his teammates.
Pittsburgh’s Game 7 road rout of Washington in last spring’s Eastern Conference semifinals helped pave the way to its Stanley Cup title run, and the budding rivals meet Thursday night at Mellon Arena.
The Capitals (31-12-6) had nine more points than the Penguins in 2008-09, but having home-ice advantage didn’t make a difference. After the home team won the series’ first four games, the road club won the final three, capped by Sidney Crosby(notes) scoring twice in the Penguins’ 6-2 Game 7 victory.
“We were 3-0-1 against them last year and it didn’t mean a hill of beans,” Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. “The first couple of times I could only watch (the tape of Game 7) until they scored their first goal, but then I gutted it out and watched it all.
“But hey, they deserved it. They kicked our butts.”
Washington again has the edge in the standings - 68 points to 63 - and is the NHL’s highest-scoring club with 185 goals. Crosby is second in the league with 32 goals and fourth in points with 63, while Ovechkin is tied for third with 30 goals and second with 65 points.
“It’s going to be a big game,” Crosby, who had 13 points in the playoff series, told the Penguins’ official Web site. “We all get excited for that. We know the rivalry between the two teams. That is an exciting one.”
Crosby had a big night Tuesday as the Penguins (31-19-1) returned home from a five-game road trip. He scored two goals and tied a career high with six points - three times setting up Evgeni Malkin(notes) - in a 6-4 win over the New York Islanders.
All three of Malkin’s goals came on the power play and Pittsburgh converted four times overall, a hopeful sign for a unit that’s among the worst in the league at 16.0 percent.
“Those nights are great for your power play’s confidence,” Crosby said.
The Penguins are 21-2-0 when they score with the man advantage. Washington, which has the league’s top power-play unit at 25.1 percent, is 22-7-3.
The Capitals faced off against last season’s other Stanley Cup finalist Tuesday and beat Detroit 3-2 despite being outshot 46-23. Nicklas Backstrom’s(notes) power-play goal with 6:45 left tied it at 2-all, and Dave Steckel’s(notes) goal less than a minute later lifted Washington to its fourth straight win.
“That’s probably the best I’ve seen him,” Boudreau said. “Without him, it could have very well been 6-0 after the first period.”
It’s unclear who will be in net for Pittsburgh. Marc-Andre Fleury(notes) has missed the last two games with a broken finger but could return. If he can’t go, Brent Johnson(notes) - who spent the last four seasons with the Capitals - will get the call.
Either way, Ovechkin is eager to get another crack at the Penguins.
“This is going to be a different game,” Ovechkin said. “(Last season) is history.”