Sunday, December 27, 2015

Who is Washington's Biggest Rival?

With the Caps on top of the league and getting set for another attempt at a long playoff run, one team that must be on their minds is the New York Rangers. Fresh off a 7-3 dismantling of the Rags at Madison Square Garden, the Caps seem to be determined to vanquish their playoff demons once and for all. Playoff loss after playoff loss have helped to rekindle (and even enhance) a once-dormant rivalry between these two teams.

With that thought, who is Washington's biggest rival right now? The Rangers, who've knocked us out a few too many times recently? Is it the Penguins, the bane of the 90's Caps? Or is it someone else?

With the Caps playing more and more meaningful games later and later in the season, these and more rivalries are only going to continue to grow. Here is one Caps fan's ranking of their top 5 rivalries.

5. Boston Bruins
Best Moment in the Rivalry:

The Caps have dominated the Bruins recently, with Braden Holtby shutting them down every chance he gets. He shut them out all of last season and gave up one goal on a weird bounce earlier this year. Due to this, as well as the fact that they play in a different division, the rivalry has really weakened. However, it gets points for the physicality that both teams bring, the motivation the B's have to finally get the best of Holtby, and the fact that these are two of the best teams in the conference, and another playoff meeting may be imminent.

4. Philadelphia Flyers
Best Moment in the Rivalry:

This has been one of the most underrated rivalries since the Caps joined the league 40 years ago. The Caps and Flyers have had four playoff meetings in their history, most famously the one that ended with the above goal by Dale Hunter. That 1988 series was one of the best in franchise history. Recently, these two teams haven't played each other much in the playoffs (just the one meeting in 2008), but there is absolutely no love lost between them. We all remember the two line brawls in 2013-14. We all remember Wilson's hit on Schenn and Niskanen's duel with Scott Laughton. The physicality alone clinches the rivalry the fourth spot in the countdown.

3. New York Islanders
Best Moment in the Rivalry:

Before the Rangers this decade and before the Penguins in the 90's, the Islanders were the bane of Washington's existence, teaching the Caps exactly how to lose 7-game series in heartbreaking fashion. Everybody knows about the Easter Epic and Hunter's hit on Turgeon. More recently, we're all still basking a bit in the memory of Kuznetsov's goal above that won the Caps one of the most hard-fought series I have ever watched. Unfortunately, our first meeting this year won't be until January 7th, but if the preseason was any indication, the game as well as the season series will be physical, heart-pounding, and absolutely exhilarating. And if these two teams meet again in the playoffs, oh boy. This is quickly becoming one of the best and most exciting rivalries in the league.

2. New York Rangers
Best Moment in the Rivalry:

Washington's most-met playoff opponent, both all-time and in the OV era, is now the New York Rangers. After last year's heartbreaking Game 7 loss, the third straight seven-game series loss to the Rags, the Caps have shown that they have a thirst for revenge this year after their 7-3 dismantling of the struggling Manhattan squad. So why do the Rags rank second instead of first? For me, the answer is, quite simply, I don't hate enough of their players. Chris Kreider is an idiot, Derek Brassard is weird, and Marc Staal is washed-up and terrible, but other than them, who is there to hate? Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, who play their hearts out to stop OV? Rick Nash, the 40-goal scorer who is almost as maligned as OV? And of course, Henrik Lundqvist, the bane of Caps fans, who has singlehandedly carried the Rags over the course of his 10-11 year career? The games are thrilling, suspenseful, and usually heartbreaking, but there simply isn't the level of hatred needed to rank this rivalry first.

1. Pittsburgh Penguins
Best Moment in the Rivalry:

Pittsburgh, however, is a different story. It all started in the 90's with the successive years of playoff heartbreaks. Can anybody forget the Petr Nedved 4OT goal? That is in the pantheon of the Caps' disasters along with the Easter Epic, Tikkanen, Ward's high-stick, and Stepan. The rivalry is still going strong these days, despite the few playoff meetings between these two teams. And let me tell you, we may not meet in the playoffs, but I hate nearly everybody on that team (with the exception of Eric Fehr and Steven Oleksy, of course. Sniff). Sidney Crosby's a whining diva. Evgeni Malkin's an annoying idiot who is always the most dangerous player on Pittsburgh when we play. Kris Letang is a cheap-shotting diver. Chris Kunitz and David Perron are talentless goons who get free points from playing with Crosby. The list goes on and on, and there will probably never be a team I hate more than Pittsburgh.

So this is my ranking for the Caps' biggest rivals right now. What do you think? Do you have a different number one? Other teams in the Top 5? Let me know, and Let's Go Caps!