A brief history of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals in the NHL Playoffs

Pens win. Caps choke. Rinse. Repeat.

NHL: Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Something about this NHL season would have felt incomplete if the Penguins and Capitals didn’t get the opportunity to face off in the playoffs. Let’s be real, Pittsburgh fans would have been quite happy to not have to face the top team in the conference in the second round. A hot-dog-laden tour of Toronto led by Phil Kessel would have felt just fine, thankyouverymuch.

And, yet, as much as the ultimate goal of winning back-to-back championships should be at the forefront of the Pens’ mindset no matter who they face in Round 2, a seven-game spat with the Caps is going to be SO. MUCH. FUN.

Crosby! Ovechkin! Malkin! Backstrom! Kessel. … Other players who play for the Capitals! It’s the series hockey fans need. It’s the series hockey fans deserve. And the Penguins are totally going to win.


There really isn’t a great reason these two teams have become such bitter hockey rivals outside of the Ovechkin-Crosby-Malkin connection, coupled with the Penguins’ incredible success in this era juxtaposed with the Capitals’ utter failure. (OK, so that’s actually a fantastic reason.)

Here’s a quick history of the times the Caps and Pens played — or should have played — in the playoffs this era.


Pittsburgh swept Ottawa in the first round and, as the second seed, would have been paired with the third-seed Caps. Alas, they lost in seven games to the Flyers. The Pens eventually beat Philly in the conference finals before losing in the Stanley Cup final to Detroit.


The Pens and Caps both made it to the second round, setting up an epic seven-game tete-a-tete between Ovi and Sid for the first time ever in the playoffs. Washington took the first two games before the Pens won their first two at home. Game 5 went to the Penguins in Washington when Evgeni Malkin lit the lamp in overtime for the 4-3 victory. With a chance to clinch at home in six games, the Pens held a 3-2 third period lead before two Caps goals — and two Ovi assists — gave them the lead. Crosby scored with just more than four minutes to play in regulation to tie the game, but Washington scored in OT for the win.

Game 7, in Washington, was a rout. The Pens were up 5-0 before Ovechkin scored to stop the bleeding, barely. The 6-2 series clincher came from two goals and an assist from Crosby, two assists from Malkin, a Bill Guerin goal and even Craig Adams scored.

Even Craig Adams scored.

The Penguins went on to win the Stanley Cup that year. The Caps went home.


Washington was, again, the top seed and, again, failed miserably in the playoffs, losing to the Canadiens in the first round. Yes, the Penguins also lost to the Canadiens, in the second round. We know.


The Caps were the top seed in the East, but lost in the second round to the Tampa Bay Lightning (who, yes, yes, beat the Penguins in the first round that year).


The Caps were the seventh seed and made it to the second round, but lost to the Rangers in six games. The Penguins, yes, lost in the first round to the Flyers.


The Pens were the top seed in the East, while the Caps were No. 3. Washington lost in the first round, to the Rangers. (The Penguins eventually lost in the conference finals to the Bruins in four games.)


The Caps missed the playoffs, while the Penguins lost in the second round.


In 2015, the second-seeded Caps won in the first round, setting up a potential Round 2 tilt with the Penguins. Only … the Pens were the No. 8 seed and lost in five games to the Rangers.


Finally, last season, the Caps and Pens faced each other again in the playoffs with the Caps earning the top seed. And we know how that went.


All that leads to this year, and specifically this week, where the Caps will host the first two games before moving to the Paint Can for the next two. Pittsburgh dispatched of Columbus in five games in the first round, while it took the Caps six games to get rid of Toronto, leading to the most anticipated second round series since, well, the last time these two teams met in the second round.

The Pens have the Caps’ number, traditionally, and the Caps have consistently choked as the top seed in the playoffs, traditionally. So either this season is going to be more of the same and the Pens might actually have the inside track at getting back to another Stanley Cup final or, well, Ovechkin and Co. are due. Here’s when and how we’ll find out.

Round 2: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals

Date (*if necessary)MatchupTime (ET)Channel
ThursdayPenguins @ Capitals7:30 p.m.NBCSN
SaturdayPenguins @ Capitals8 p.m.NBC
Monday, May 1Capitals @ Penguins
7:30 p.m.NBCSN
Wednesday, May 3Capitals @ Penguins7:30 p.m.NBCSN
*Saturday, May 6Penguins @ CapitalsTBDTBD
*Monday, May 8Capitals @ PenguinsTBDTBD
*Wednesday, May 10Penguins @ CapitalsTBDTBD