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Kevin Gorman: For Penguins, Capitals’ Stanley Cup win is the worst

October 5, 2018

The Pittsburgh Penguins will open the season Thursday without a Stanley Cup championship to defend or a banner they can raise to the rafters for the first time in three years.

Making it more awkward is that their opening-night opponent Thursday night at PPG Paints Arena serves as a symbol of their shortcomings. The Washington Capitals eliminated the Penguins in the second round and went on to win their first Stanley Cup.

Not that the Penguins needed a reminder.

“Any team you lose to in the playoffs, the next year you’re obviously well aware of them,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “It’s fresh in your mind. That’s pretty typical, whether it’s Washington or any other team you’ve lost to in the past. That’s pretty standard, I think.

“Nobody likes losing, regardless of if it’s a team that goes on to win or doesn’t go on to win.”

This standard is something new for Crosby & Co. Where Washington had won the Metropolitan Division in 2009, ’16 and ’17, the Penguins had eliminated the Capitals on their way to Cup championships all three years and owned what was viewed as a playoff edge in their mental makeup.

Now, the skate was on the other foot, so to speak.

It made me wonder if the Penguins had raised their respect for their favorite foe, but players dismissed that notion.

“No more so than before,” Penguins goaltender Matt Murray said. “We’ve always had a ton of admiration for that team. They’re one of the most dangerous teams in the league, obviously. They’ve got so much talent, right from the bottom of the lineup to the top. ...

“We knew how good of a team they were.”

Now, the Capitals know.

The Curse of the Capitals is a thing of the past, as are their days as a postseason punching bag and punchline for the Penguins. Now, Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Braden Holtby and even Tom Wilson -- who was suspended Wednesday by the NHL for 20 games after another cheap-shot head shot -- can call themselves Stanley Cup champions.

“Obviously, they’re going to have a lot of confidence now that they’ve just won the Cup,” Brian Dumoulin said. “They’re a great team and a tough opponent for us. In that room, they’ll have that Stanley Cup experience. But everyone’s starting off on that same plateau, same spot. Regardless of that, it’s just another opponent.”

Sorry, but nobody’s buying that.

The Penguins and Capitals are one of the NHL’s best rivalries. As much as the Penguins played nice when talking about the Capitals, none of them was interested in watching Washington raise its Cup championship banner against the Boston Bruins on Wednesday night at Capital One Arena.

“Washington had a very good year last year and they’re deserving of winning the Stanley Cup, and we tip our hat to them. We know how hard it is ourselves,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “They had a very strong playoff run. I think the familiarity on both sides and the fact that both organizations have been as competitive as they’ve been for quite some time now, year in and year out, breeds that rivalry. It’s an exciting rivalry. It’s fun to be a part of. It’s two really good teams that battle against one another.”

That their road to the Stanley Cup starts with the same team that ended their season is a standard for which the Penguins shouldn’t settle. When it comes to this rivalry, they now know there is nothing worse than watching the Caps win the Cup.

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