Why Tuesday’s Capitals-Penguins game could decide the Stanley Cup

29 October 2019

Why Tuesday’s Capitals-Penguins game could decide the Stanley Cup

As the Capitals travel to Pittsburgh to take on the rival Penguins Tuesday (Coverage begins 6 p.m., NBC Sports Washington), there might be much more on the line than just two points in the standings.
The winners of the last three Stanley Cups will meet in Tuesday’s game as the Caps won final season along with the Penguins won in 2016 and 2017. In each of those three seasons, both Washington and Pittsburgh needed to play one another from the postseason in their way to the championship. However, as divisional opponents, the two teams had plenty of matchups in the regular season as well.
The Caps have fared fairly well against their opponents from the regular season over the past three years. At the 2015-16 season, Washington managed a 2-2-1 record against the Penguins. That improved to 2-0-2 in 2016-17. Yet, the results in the postseason remained exactly the same using the Caps falling in the next round every year. In 2017-18, Washington went 2-2-0 from Pittsburgh, but conquered them in the playoffs for only the second time in franchise history.
While the overall records don’t shed much light, if you look a bit closer you discover that the final matchup of the season has proven key.
In 2016, the Caps fell on April 7 to the Penguins 4-3 in overtime. Marcus Johansson scored double for Washington, but Sidney Crosby scored the overtime winner. In 2017, both groups met for the last time earlier in the season on Jan. 16 using the Caps losing in overtime , this time 8-7. Washington gave up a 3-0 lead as Evgeni Malkin tallied a hat trick along with Connor Sheary felt in overtime.
Things were different, however, in 2018. With the Metropolitan Division up for grabs, Philipp Grubauer was brilliant in net to lead the Caps to the 3-1 win.
Why does this matter? Since in each of the previous three seasons, the winner of the final regular-season meeting between these two teams has gone on to win the Stanley Cup.
Perhaps it is a shame and it does not matter. But maybe a late-season game with major implications against a bitter rival in a playoff air is a good test of where a team stands heading into the postseason.
The New York Islanders sit just two points behind Washington for first place at the Metropolitan Division. Behind them, Pittsburgh is tied for third with the Carolina Hurricanes. Not only would a reduction for the Caps hurt them in the division race, but it also makes a first-round matchup from the Penguins quite possible.
Tuesday’s game is huge in terms of the standings, but make no mistake, this game is all about a great deal more than just those 2 points.

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