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Realignment rekindles some old-school rivalries

by Corey Masisak
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- Dick Patrick has been part of the Washington Capitals organization for 27 years. His arrival coincided with a string of postseason appearances in the 1980s and early 1990s when the NHL had a divisional playoff format for the first two rounds.

Consider Patrick among the members of the NHL Board of Governors excited to see the League return to a similar format after the Board voted Monday in favor of a realignment plan that includes a four-conference setup, with the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs to be played within those conferences.

"Playing within your division or conference in the first two rounds really solidifies these rivalries," Patrick told "That's why we have such great rivalries with Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. It is from those (divisional) years, and when those teams come to town the fans get all excited. They are really special games."


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The first playoff series victory in Washington franchise history came against the Flyers in 1984. The most famous goal in franchise history -- Dale Hunter's playoff overtime tally -- came against Philadelphia in 1988.

The original foil for the Capitals was the New York Islanders, but, in the 1990s, it became the Penguins. Washington has defeated the New York Rangers more than any other team in the playoffs (four times), including its first second-round victory in 1990.

While there was still a chance to play these teams in the current format (the Capitals have faced the Flyers, Penguins and Rangers at least once in the past four postseasons), Washington is sure to see those rivals with more frequency under the forthcoming playoff setup.

Patrick still fondly recalls the atmosphere during Patrick Division playoff games.   

"Just how intense they were and the dislike that was created between the teams," Patrick said. "Then those were the same teams that you saw the next year, so it would carry over. It wouldn't be just like a team that you're only going to play twice the next year -- it would be against teams that seem like they're coming in every other week. It really creates tremendous rivalries."

There will be other regional rivals who will see each other in the postseason with more frequency because of the new format.

Edmonton team president Kevin Lowe played for the Oilers when his team faced the Calgary Flames in postseason Battle of Alberta matchups five times in a nine-year span.

"This is the best solution," Lowe said. "I'm hoping a team, or our team, isn't on the outside looking in because of the new playoff alignment, but ultimately down the road if it means Calgary and Edmonton play in some playoff series, that will be a great thing."

This move for Washington will bring back fond memories for Patrick for another reason -- the Capitals will once again be playing teams from the division named after his grandfather, Lester Patrick.

"Whatever they call it -- we're just glad to be back with the same competition," Patrick said. "I think it is a big thing for the Caps and for Caps fans.

"This puts us back with a lot of the teams from the old Patrick Division, and for our fans those are still the most popular opponents that we have. We were in favor of it, we like it and we think our fans are really going to enjoy it."

What the four new  conferences will be called is unknown, as is what happens once the second round of the postseason is completed.

The Western and Eastern Conferences will be no more, and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said he will consult with the League's general managers on how the third round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs will be decided.

"I think it's a little premature because it's something I'm going to let the general managers do, but if you use the two eastern-most conferences against the two western-most conferences you reduce travel," Bettman said. "But, by the same token, you have a myriad of possibilities if you reseed based on points.

"Somebody even suggested to me today that you can have a random drawing. I'm not advocating that. All I'm saying is this is a discussion I think the general managers can weigh in on effectively and can make a good decision on in march when they get together."
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