But every playoff matchup in the last decade has been dramatic. The Penguins needed to win road Game 7s twice and an overtime Game 6 the other time. The teams have also played bunches of good regular-season games since Crosby and Ovechkin arrived in 2005 to bring the league’s biggest star power into the series.
These are some of the games that built this rivalry.
Tier II: Extremely good regular-season games
Dec. 11, 2006: Penguins 5, Capitals 4 (SO)
The first overtime or shootout game ever between Crosby and Ovechkin came a couple months into their second season. The Capitals took a 4-0 lead at home, with Ovechkin registering two assists. The Penguins answered with four straight, including a goal and an apple for Crosby. Evgeni Malkin won it in a shootout — an early-season confidence-builder for the Penguins, who hadn’t made the playoffs in a half-decade.
March 9, 2008: Penguins 4, Capitals 2
A young Nicklas Backstrom shot the puck into his own net with 28 seconds left in the game. Crosby got credit for the tie-breaking, backbreaking goal. The Capitals were a young team on their way to their first playoffs with this core, so call this a growing pain:
Feb. 22, 2009: Capitals 5, Penguins 2
This was the first (and only?) time Crosby and Ovechkin got into something approaching a fight. Their rivalry had lacked personal zest until this point, when Crosby got frustrated late in a blowout loss. It made their playoff series a few months later more fun.
Jan. 1, 2011: Capitals 3, Penguins 1
They played this one outside. It was the 2010-11 season’s Winter Classic, back before the NHL played several outdoor games a year. The atmosphere ruled:
Something that didn’t rule was a Crosby collision with Steckel that led to the world’s best player missing much of two seasons with concussion problems.
Jan. 16, 2017: Penguins 8, Capitals 7 (OT)
The Capitals blew a 3-0 lead. The Penguins blew a 5-3 lead and a 7-5 lead. Conor Sheary won the game 34 seconds into a three-on-three overtime. Crosby had four points, and Ovechkin had two in the most pure barnburner the teams have ever played.
Tier I: Playoff classics
May 4, 2009 (Game 2): Capitals 4, Penguins 3
Crosby and Ovechkin scored three times each. Ovechkin’s two goals in two and a half minutes early in the third period stood up as the difference. Crosby got the Penguins within a goal by batting a puck out of the air in the last minute, but the Capitals took a 2-0 series lead. If you like star narratives, this was the game for you:
May 9, 2009 (Game 5): Penguins 4, Capitals 3 (OT)
After going down 2-0, the Penguins held serve by winning two games at home. Ovechkin scored twice, including a game-tying goal in the last five minutes of regulation. Malkin scored the overtime winner on a rush with Crosby, but it was really an own goal. A diving Tom Poti tipped the puck through Semyon Varlamov’s five-hole:
May 11, 2009 (Game 6): Capitals 5, Penguins 4 (OT)
This post is a collection of great games, not a ranking of them. But if I had to rank the drama of every Penguins-Capitals meeting from this era, this one would be No. 1. The Capitals trailed the series 3-2, and the Penguins smelled blood. Pittsburgh took a 3-2 lead early in the third period but gave up two goals in 29 seconds a short time after. Crosby tied it from in front of the net with four minutes and change to play. The Capitals preserved their season when David Steckel redirected a puck past Marc-Andre Fleury in OT.
Game 7 of this series was a 6-2 rout for the Penguins. It wasn’t great, unless you were a Penguins fan, in which case it was awesome. There just wasn’t a lot of suspense.
May 10, 2016 (Game 6): Penguins 4, Capitals 3 (OT)
This was one wild. The Penguins, up 3-2 in the series, took a 3-0 lead in the second period at home. They let the Capitals back to tie, helping them by taking three delay-of-game penalties, back-to-back-to-back, in the middle of the third period. Somehow the Capitals only got one goal out of the extended five-on-three time that ensued, but it sent the game to overtime. There, Jay Beagle — who’s not a goalie — made a save to preserve Washington’s season:
It wasn’t enough. Nick Bonino ended the Caps’ year a few minutes later:
May 1, 2017 (Game 3): Capitals 3, Penguins 2 (OT)
This one’s included for the sheer oddity of it. A hit by Matt Niskanen knocked Crosby out of the game in the first period. The Penguins looked cooked, though they had a 2-0 series lead. The Capitals were up 2-0 in the game with two minutes to play. The lower bowl at PPG Paints Arena had largely emptied. Then the Penguins scored twice in 48 seconds to tie it:
Kevin Shattenkirk scored in overtime for the Capitals to make the comeback futile.
May 10, 2017 (Game 7): Penguins 2, Capitals 0
The Capitals had trailed the series 3-1, but they won Game 5 at home and trounced the Penguins in Game 6 to force a winner-take-all on home ice. A 32-year-old Fleury had been relegated to backup goaltending duties for the Penguins by this point, but he’d been standing in for the younger Matt Murray while Murray nursed an injury. Fleury took the Penguins into D.C. and pitched a 29-save shutout to win the series.
And that’s where these teams have left each other.
What’s in store in 2018?