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Capitals-Penguins rivalry is the real thing

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

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Capitals-Penguins rivalry is the real thing
Some rivalries are more cosmetic than genuine. Not so the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins -- they really don't like each other
PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby says the one thing the Pittsburgh Penguins can't do when it comes to the rivalry with the Washington Capitals is spend too much time thinking about who is wearing the other jersey -- or even what it looks like.

"You can't afford to," Crosby said Friday.

They don't have to.

Intensity is what makes a rivalry boil, and it never takes much for the Capitals and Penguins to turn up the burners. They'll have them on full blast Saturday night in the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.

"You think about the other team when you're preparing for them, but that's the great thing about a rivalry -- you don't have to think about it, it's just natural," Crosby said. "You go out there and the intensity is there, the emotion is there and it's just a natural thing to happen."

The word "hatred" is tossed around a lot in this rivalry. It's not a word that's normally used publicly in sports, but it is here because these teams do in fact hate one another, and they're happy to say so.

"They don't like us, so why should we like them," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau told NHL.com. "Wasn't it (Max) Talbot who said over the summer that he didn't like (Alex) Ovechkin? Well, so why can't we say we don't like Talbot? I didn't like him when he was in Wilkes-Barre, and I don't like him in Pittsburgh. Anybody that can beat us we don't like."

The hatred is not reserved only for the jerseys and logos. One player told NHL.com that he truly hates some of the guys on the other side because of their cocky attitudes.

"Over the years we've built (that hatred)," Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury told NHL.com. "I don't think they like us, and we don't like them very much. It's good."

Well, yeah, it is. Nobody is complaining that the Pens and Caps don't like each other.

It makes for a fantastic rivalry, quality drama, excellent TV and, ultimately, great ratings.

Plus, the players and coaches don't mind getting caught up in it, especially now that the spotlight is squarely on the rivalry, which dates back a good 20 years.

Pittsburgh and Washington have met in the playoffs eight times since 1991. The Penguins have won seven of the series and three Stanley Cups over the span. The Capitals are still seeking their first championship.

"I think part of that history and hatred is built up over the years," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "Some of that we're a part of but some of that is built up from times we weren't around for, the Penguins success against them in the playoffs. We certainly had our fair share in the last playoff round against them, but the personalities, the qualities of the teams and the rivalries of the past are built into some dramatic games and some huge hype from the media. You sense it when you get to the games and it's built into some pretty good hatred."

The hatred is not limited to the NHL.

The AHL affiliates for both teams -- the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and Hershey Bears -- are separated by 100 miles on Interstate 81 in Pennsylvania. They've met 65 times over the past four seasons and never is there a boring game.

"The one with Hershey and Wilkes, it's huge," said Capitals center Mathieu Perreault, who played 133 games for the Bears from 2008-10. "We play each other 12 times a year and we're always two of the top teams in the league. So, it's been like that my two years in Hershey, a big rivalry, and I feel it's about the same up here.

"We don't really like each other, like everyone says."

Both coaches, Bylsma and Boudreau, coached in that AHL rivalry. They can attest to that hatred.

"These two teams as well, there is genuine dislike for the other jersey," Bylsma said. "Traveling down the road and going into their building, there is history there and it makes for some entertaining, spirited, fun hockey."

"Every team I've ever been on has had a pretty strong rival and all of those games are little more exciting and you get up for it a little more," Boudreau said. "The further down the line you go in leagues you can really make these rivalries intense. It can almost be like WWE stuff. You have to realize where you are here and be above board, but I look forward to it. It's fun."

Even the new guys to the rivalry didn't need any time to understand its ferocity.

"You can notice right away the tension between our teams," said Caps rookie Marcus Johansson, who made his debut in the rivalry just eight days ago in Washington. "That's when hockey is the most fun. To play against a team like that out here (at Heinz Field), it's amazing and I think it's something you'll never forget.

Does he already hate the Penguins?

"Yeah, a little bit," Johansson said. "Wait, no, a lot."

He can stay.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl