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Newcomers get first taste of Pens-Caps rivalry

by Corey Masisak
ARLINGTON, Va. -- Every time the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins get together it's a pretty big deal. It has blossomed into the top current rivalry in the NHL.

Eric Belanger and Joe Corvo know about the feud, but they're about to experience it first hand for the first time Wednesday night.

"I just keep hearing that it is a big rivalry and that a lot of fans will drive from Pittsburgh to be here tonight," Belanger said Wednesday afternoon. "It is exciting to be a part of. If we get a win tonight we're clinching the conference (with a New Jersey loss Thursday), so it is a big deal for this organization."

Belanger, Corvo and Scott Walker joined the Capitals on trade-deadline day. Walker will not play because of an injury, but if what other recent additions to Washington say is true, Belanger and Corvo are in for an eye-opening night.

The distaste between the two franchises has been growing steadily since Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin entered the League, but it reached new heights during an epic seven-game conference semifinal playoff series last spring.

Washington has won both matchups this season, including a 5-4 overtime triumph -- after falling behind 4-1 -- at the Verizon Center on national television. A Capitals victory would ensure the Penguins cannot win the Eastern Conference and would help them tie a franchise record with 108 points.

Among the Capitals who will suit up tonight, John Carlson, Brendan Morrison, Mike Knuble and Jason Chimera also have joined the club in the aftermath of Pittsburgh prevailing in last year's postseason.

"It was the last time I got called up before the trade deadline and it was just crazy there (in Pittsburgh)," Carlson said. "You just could feel the environment and the fans. You could tell they live for games like this. You've got the two poster boys of the NHL going head-to-head and if you look up their stats it is crazy how well they do against each other. It is always a great game."

Added Morrison: "They've been good games. They are like playoff games, really, from the intensity to the physicality and to the fan atmosphere inside the rink. There isn't a lot of love lost between these two teams, that's for sure."

This is Knuble's first season as a participant, but he's been in plenty of rivalry games involving both clubs as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers. Fans from Pittsburgh and Washington might despise the team wearing the wrong-colored sweaters Wednesday night, but they are united in their dislike of the team from eastern Pennsylvania.

Knuble faced the Penguins and Capitals in playoff series as a Flyer, including both during the 2007-08 season.

"I feel like there is a triangle," Knuble said. "Just being a part of two-thirds of the triangle, they are all really competitive games. I've played a lot of games against them and they are just a really good team. They are good games, and having Alex and Sidney just makes it a natural rivalry."

Corvo has some experience with one of the NHL's biggest rivalries from his two seasons in Ottawa when the Senators had the Battle of Ontario with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Belanger now is with his fifth team, but this is his first time in the middle of one of the League's top conflicts.

"When I was with L.A. our biggest rival was the Ducks, so that is hard to compare, but growing up the biggest rivalry was the Canadiens and Nordiques," Belanger, a Sherbrooke, Que., native, said. "I don't think there's been a bigger rivalry in hockey, but this is probably the biggest now so I am happy to be part of it."

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