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Penguins' Cup celebration a sore point for Capitals

Play season opener after Pittsburgh raises championship banner

by Tom Gulitti @tomgulittinhl / NHL.com Staff Writer

PITTSBURGH -- As a three-time Stanley Cup winner, forward Justin Williams has been on the other side of what the Washington Capitals will experience when the Pittsburgh Penguins raise their championship banner prior to the season opener at PPG Paints Arena on Thursday. 

Williams, who won the Cup once with the Carolina Hurricanes and twice with the Los Angeles Kings, believes each player handles being an outsider at such celebrations differently.

"It's either going to make them angry, make them sad, make them think about last year or make them think forward," Williams said after the Capitals' morning skate. "I don't know. You'll have to ask every individual."

But Williams knows exactly what he'll be thinking before the game Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NHL.TV). 

"This is their night. This is their celebratory night," Williams said. "I've been on the other end of a few and the other team that's come in has kicked our [rear end] every time, so I hope to do that."

Video: WSH@PIT, Gm6: Bonino buries rebound to clinch series

A win wouldn't erase the disappointment of losing to the Penguins in six games in the Eastern Conference Second Round and watching them go on to win the Stanley Cup. But it would be the ideal way for the Capitals to begin their season, and for one night, it would spoil the Penguins' party a little.

"That would be awesome," Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom said.

It's the second time in Capitals history that they open the season against the reigning Stanley Cup champion. They were at United Center to open the 2013-14 season and remained in their locker room while the Chicago Blackhawks raised their banner. The Capitals then lost 6-4.

Washington was coached by Adam Oates at the time. After initially saying the Capitals would watch the Penguins' ceremony from the visiting bench, current coach Barry Trotz now says that won't be the case because of the length of the ceremony, which will delay the opening faceoff until 8:29 p.m.

Although Trotz wouldn't reveal exactly what the Capitals' plans are, it sounds as if they will remain in their locker room for most of the ceremony before coming out to the bench for the end.

"From our standpoint, we'd like to be standing where they are tonight," Trotz said. "They earned the right to be there and it's their moment. So we've got to get it done from our standpoint so we can have that moment maybe in our future."

The major difference for the Capitals in this ceremony from the one in Chicago is that the Penguins are one of their biggest rivals and knocked them out of the playoffs last season.

Video: NYI@WSH: Ovechkin unleashes one-timer to pad lead

The last time the Capitals were in this arena, they were eliminated on Nick Bonino's overtime goal in Game 6. That brought an abrupt end to a season they believed would end with them raising the Cup after they won the Presidents' Trophy and set a Washington record with 56 wins.

The memory of that loss was impossible to avoid walking into PPG Paints Arena on Thursday.

"It's in your mind, but it's not like we can't win in this building. It's nothing like that," right wing T.J. Oshie said. "Coming in, it's a new year. Hats off to them for what they accomplished. It's something special. It's something that we all want to do. Now, it's a new year and we want it to be our turn. So, hopefully, we can set that tone tonight."

The Capitals know what they do in this first game won't matter nearly as much as what they do in their last one. No one has to remind them they have not advanced past the second round of the playoffs since they made their lone Stanley Cup Final appearance in 1998.

But seeing the Penguins raise their Stanley Cup banner will serve as a season-long reminder of what could have been and what they hope to achieve.

"This is something we think about every day," Backstrom said. "They beat us last year. It's the start of a new season and we play them in the first game, so it's pretty special. It's something that, hopefully we can get fired up from this and it will motivate us."

Video: WSH@PHI, Gm6: Backstrom buries home Johansson's feed

The Capitals did not hide that they will experience some envy in watching the Penguins' ceremony. That too can be helpful.

"I wish we were in this position in Washington, but we didn't [win]," captain Alex Ovechkin said. "It's going to be a good, emotional. Hopefully, we're going to do [it] this year. I think it's time for us and we're going to do it."

If every defeat includes a lesson, the Capitals have learned their share by now.

"We're one year older. We're one year wiser," Williams said. "I would say we have one more year of disappointment under our belts and sometimes you've got to lose to know how hard it is to win. We're getting there and I think we have a great chance this year again."

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