Okay, in case you’re unaware, there’s a war scheduled for tonight at 7:30 pm. It’s set to rumble off up in Pittsburgh’s venerable Mellon Arena (hereafter called by its proper name, the Igloo) and features an interstate rivalry that dates back to at least the early nineties, depending on who you talk to.
Yes, I’m talking about tonight’s NHL hockey match-up, the Washington Capitals vs the Pittsburgh Penguins.
I bring it up because honestly, it’s a must-watch event in our household. More than American Idol and Top Chef – though the game should be over before Top Chef comes on – and usually warrants the phone being off the hook and ignoring any knocking at the door. (Though I dislike being forced to watch Comcast’s coverage due to Center Ice blackout restrictions – I cannot stand Craig Laughlin’s commentary. At all.)
Normally, it’s just an intense match-up between two teams who’ve set the standard for tough play and stellar goals. They both bring out the best of the other, making these games exciting even during the non-playoff years and when neither team had extraordinary talent. I’ve been to these games at both the Igloo and the “Phone Booth” and they’ve always been good fun. (An aside, since I heard this last night from a friend – do you Caps fans REALLY want the Verizon Center nicknamed as such? How…eighties.)
These days, it’s more than just a team rivalry. The NHL’s been touting these games as a contest between Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin since they both were unleashed on the league. Rightly so – both of these phenoms is a recreation of the old Lemieux vs. Gretzky arguments of the eighties and nineties – except that unlike those two giants, both Crosby and Ovie face off at least four times a year. And the possibility of the Caps facing the Pens again in the playoffs? All that much sweeter.
However, the rivalry has progressed beyond just those two players this year. Back in October, you’ll remember, Alexander Semin popped off with a few choice comments about Crosby. Semin’s a great young forward in his own right, showing tremendous flashes of skill this season between injuries. But he’s no Crosby. And that’s okay. (Though a fight between these two? Oh, the humanity.) Because pitting these two against each other just crystallizes the real war brewing between two other superstars…
It’s a script right out of a movie, really. Close friends, sudden betrayal, differing perceptions, violence, and it all plays out both on and off the ice. Witness Ovie’s relentless pursuit of Malkin during the first game this season on Oct 16, where Ovie got off at least five good checks on his former Russian compadre. This was during Ovie’s slow start; he obviously needed some way to take out his frustration.
Both of them sit atop the league’s scoring race, scant points between them. Tonight’s game will most likely show who’s focused on increasing their points, and who’s wanting to stake a claim to a Gordie Howe hat trick. (That’d be a goal, an assist and a fight.)
How tonight goes is anyone’s guess. It’s too close to really predict until after the final horn sounds. The Caps were eviscerated by Erik Cole’s hat trick and Edmonton’s sudden ability to show up for a game, handing Washington their third loss in a row after a strong winning streak. And the Penguins, recovering from a horrible slide that has them with only two wins in their last eleven games, may have ended their bad streak with a solid performance that sank the Flyers last night.
It’s in the Igloo, but the Caps are the healthier team. Crosby and Malkin are unstoppable when paired together, Semin’s still not 100% from his injuries. The Pens power play is in trouble, while the Caps are finally seeing flashes of solid play from Theodore.
Plus, there’s that whole come-from-behind Caps win the Penguins need to avenge from last October.
Rivalries within rivalries. It’s what makes good games great. And great games like this one tonight? Are made astounding.
Though I’ll be rooting for a Penguins victory, I know even in a loss that I’ll have seen a great hockey game. And really, that’s all we can ask for from the Caps. And the Pens.