Photo: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
As it appears that the Carolina Hurricanes have been included among the top rivals of the Washington Capitals after beating the reigning Stanley Cup Champions in seven games in the First Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, NoVa Caps counts down the top-10 rivalries that the Capitals share around the league.
10. Chicago Blackhawks
While the Capitals and Blackhawks only see another twice a year, the matchup features two of the best teams and players, such as Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin and Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane; centers Nicklas Backstrom and Jonathan Toews; defensemen John Carlson Duncan Keith; and goaltenders Braden Holtby and Corey Crawford for the past decade. The two teams have been among the best in their respective conferences for a long time as well. They even faced off in the 2015 NHL Winter Classic, a 3-2 win by the Capitals, with former Blackhawk forward Troy Brouwer notching the game-winner with 12.9 seconds remaining in regulation. The Blackhawks and Capitals have also won four of the past eight Stanley Cups.
9. New York Islanders
The Islanders and the Capitals have seen each other in the postseason seven times, with the most recent being in 2015 — a seven-game victory in Round 1 by the Capitals. Prior, the Islanders had their way with the Capitals, winning five of the six series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The teams played five series in as many seasons from 1983-1987. The Islanders also beat the Capitals in six games in 1993. The Capitals’ lone series victory over New York in the Stanley Cup Playoffs before 2015 was in 1986, a 3-0 sweep. One point separated the Capitals and the Islanders for the Metropolitan Division crown this season after head coach Barry Trotz resigned from his position 11 days following winning the Stanley Cup with the Capitals. He signed a five-year contract with the Islanders three days later.
8. Boston Bruins
The Capitals have had the Bruins number since their First-Round series in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, going 17-4-0 against Boston since then, including 14 straight victories against the black and gold spanning from 2014-2019. The two teams have met in the Stanley Cup Playoffs three times, most recently in 2012, when the Capitals took the series in seven games with the teams going to overtime four times. The Capitals have won two out of three series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs against Boston. Some bad blood between Capitals center Lars Eller and Bruins forward Brad Marchand resulted earlier this year when Marchand attacked Eller after he celebrated a goal that made the score 7-0 in front of the Bruins’ bench. Eller would try to fight him the next time they met and the two called each other out, with Eller saying “there’s not a lot of integrity in [Marchand’s] game” and Marchand responded by saying “[Eller] plays maybe 10-12 minutes a night. I’m playing 20.”
7. New York Rangers
The Capitals and Rangers faced each other five times in a span of seven seasons, including three straight seasons (2011-13). The Rangers won three of those five series, with four of those matchups going seven games. The two traded consecutive Presidents’ Trophy titles when the Rangers won it in 2015 and the Capitals did it the following season. The Rangers have won five of the nine playoff series, including each of the past three, with the Capitals. The two have been in the Metropolitan Division since 2013.
6. Philadelphia Flyers
The Capitals and Flyers have met in the postseason five times, with Washington winning three of those series. The most recent was in 2016, when the Capitals took a 3-0 series lead and won the series in six games. In 1984, the Capitals swept the three-game series. The games between the two rivals are always nasty. The Capitals swept the season series with the Flyers in 2018-19. The teams moved to the Metropolitan Division when the NHL did a divisional realignment in 2014.
5. Toronto Maple Leafs
The Capitals and the Maple Leafs have only faced each other once in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which the Capitals won in six games in 2017. Each of the two teams has threatening firepower up front with center Auston Matthews, forward Mitch Marner, and center John Tavares leading the Maple Leafs, while the Capitals counter with the likes of Ovechkin, Backstrom, and center Evgeny Kuznetsov. The games between the Capitals and Maple Leafs are usually prime-time events and high scoring, which makes this matchup arguably one of the best matchups in the NHL.
4. Carolina Hurricanes
The Capitals and Hurricanes have been in the same division since 1998 when the Southeast Division was formed. While there was always a rivalry between the two, the 2019 playoffs took it to a new level when the Hurricanes ousted the defending Stanley Cup Champions in Game 7 at Capital One Arena.
3. Columbus Blue Jackets
Since Columbus moved to the Eastern Conference in 2013, the games featuring the Capitals and the Blue Jackets have been tight and physical. Both teams have strong offensive firepower in addition to two of the best goalies in the league in Holtby and Sergei Bobrovsky. The Capitals and Blue Jackets have faced each other once in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, when the Capitals won four straight games after dropping the first two at home in 2018. The Capitals went on to win their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
The Capitals and Lightning were both in the Southeast Division from 1998 to 2013 but that doesn’t mean that the rivalry between the two teams is dead. The first Stanley Cup Playoff series between the two teams came in 2003, when the Lightning rallied from an 0-2 deficit to win four consecutive games. Each of the two wins for the Capitals came on the road. In 2011, the Capitals and Lightning met in the Second Round and Tampa Bay swept the Capitals, who had finished first in the Eastern Conference for the second consecutive year. The most recent postseason meeting with the Bolts came in the Eastern Conference Final last year, which the Capitals won in seven games despite losing three straight in Games 3-5. Like 2003, they came out of Tampa with a 2-0 series lead. The three meetings between the teams in 2018-19 were nothing short of epic, with a ton of physicality and 27 combined goals. The Capitals and Lightning have also won their respective divisions in consecutive seasons. There are plenty of fireworks on both rosters with forward Nikita Kucherov, center Steven Stamkos, center Brayden Point, defenseman Victor Hedman, and goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy in for the long haul in Tampa Bay. The Capitals counter the depth of the Lightning with the likes of Ovechkin, Backstrom, Kuznetsov, defenseman John Carlson, and Holtby.
The Capitals and Penguins have faced each other 11 times in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, including three straight from 2016-18. En route to each of the franchise’s Stanley Cup victories, the winner has had to go through the other team in this rivalry. They have each been in the Metropolitan Division since 2013 and have played each other 36 times in the past four seasons. Prior to the Capitals’ six-game victory in the second round last Spring, the Penguins had won nine out of 10 series with the Capitals in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, including each of the previous eight. With the star power that this matchup offers, including the storyline between Ovechkin and Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, Carlson and defenseman Kris Letang, and Kuznetsov and center Evgeni Malkin, this is arguably still the biggest rivalry in the NHL right now.
By Harrison Brown