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Pens discount Capitals' quest for revenge

| Thursday, Jan. 21, 2010

Revenge is a dish best served when the weather is warm — as in the springtime Stanley Cup playoffs. Until then, the Penguins don't figure to learn what the Washington Capitals discovered about winning from their excruciating postseason loss in a second-round showdown last year.

"They're doing good, winning games ... but it's the regular season; it's still early," Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said Wednesday.

Spoken like an accomplished champion.

Fleury (fractured left finger) does not expect to play tonight in the Penguins' first regular-season meeting with the Capitals since his dazzling glove save on superstar Washington left wing Alex Ovechkin sparked a blowout win in Game 7 at Verizon Center.

That victory capped arguably the most anticipated NHL playoff series since the 1994 Stanley Cup Final between the New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks, and it marked the fourth of eight postseason series between the franchises that the Penguins overcame a two-game deficit to eliminate the Capitals.

The latest of those exasperating losses by the Capitals would not have proven possible had the Penguins not experienced a crushing loss of their own in June 2008 — dropping a deciding Game 6 of the Cup Final against Detroit on home ice.

"It wasn't very tense in here," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said, recalling the dressing-room vibe after the Penguins dropped Games 1 and 2 at Washington last year. "We looked at it, like, 'OK, they won the first two games at home like they were supposed to; we'll win Games 3 and 4 and make it a best-of-three — and we thought we had the advantage in a three-game series.

"We'd been through one of those against a great team."

According to Orpik, the difference between the teams last spring was the Penguins' ability to handle the highs and lows of a tight playoff series. Fleury said having lived through the depths of a Cup-costing loss at home following the euphoria from a triple-overtime win at Detroit to extend the 2008 Final was "on our minds" prior to Game 7 against the Capitals.

"It sounds pretty simple, but we had the experience from Detroit," he said. "Everything that was going on during (the Capitals) series wasn't a big deal to us — just part of the playoffs."

It was just part of the maturation that nearly every Cup champion must experience. Even the Capitals, who are a near-lock to finish as a top-three playoff seed in the East for the third straight season, can appreciate that way of life in the NHL.

"It's not something that's going to kill us for years to come here," Capitals defenseman Brian Pothier told reporters in Washington yesterday. "If anything, it's a great learning tool for us."

Perhaps, but what the Capitals learned likely will not impress the Penguins tonight or in any of three remaining regular-season games between the star-powered rivals.

"It's premature, tough to say, until Washington gets into that situation again," Orpik said.

Another first

Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin will play their 15th regular-season game against one another tonight at Mellon Arena, but their first as respective captains of the Penguins and Capitals. A comparison of their Hart Trophy credentials as of Wednesday:

Crosby — NHL category — Ovechkin

3 — Winning goals — 4

7 — First goals — 10

25 — Division points — 14

21 — Road points — 31

54 — Points in wins — 38


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