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Destiny brings Pens, Caps together

by Sam Kasan @PensInsideScoop / Pittsburgh Penguins

Here we go again. 

The Pens and the Caps meet once again in the postseason. It's the second-straight year the clubs will face-off in the Second Round, and the third time since 2009.

This matchup was destined to happen. The two franchises are symbiotically intertwined through success, animosity and history.

The Penguins and Capitals are arguably the best two teams in the entire league. Many prognosticators have pithily termed this the "Stanley Cup Final", with the assumption that the winning team will go on to win it all. And there is good reason for that assumption.

Washington finished with the best record in the NHL this season, collecting 118 points and 55 wins. Pittsburgh finished a close second at 111 points and 50 wins of its own.

In order to win the Stanley Cup, these teams have to go through each other.

Their current series, which begins Thursday night in Washington D.C.'s Verison Center, will be the 10th time these two teams have met in the postseason. The previous nine outcomes have been lopsided in Pittsburgh's favor, 8-1.

And both teams have been the pinnacles of success over the past decade. The Pens and Caps are perennial Stanley Cup contenders. The Pens have made the playoffs 11 straight seasons, the longest active streak in the NHL. Washington has earned a postseason berth in nine of the past 10 seasons.

Both teams are stacked with talent. Three generational talents reside on both rosters in Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin. That trio has combined for six NHL MVPs, five scoring titles, eight goal-scoring titles, 10 Ted Lindsay/Lester Pearson awards as best player voted by his peers and two playoff MVPs.

Toss in a supporting cast of superstars like Phil Kessel, Kris Letang (who will miss this postseason), Marc-Andre Fleury, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie and Braden Holtby, and you've got all the necessary ingredients for a full-course meal of entertainment.

With talent like that it's easy to see why both teams have been so successful over the past decade.

Even though this is about the two best teams in the league, the Crosby-Ovechkin individual rivalry will be in play. Although their head-to-head matchup may be overblown, the two captains, much like their teams, are also forever intertwined. The series is bigger than two men, but the outcome will be an important part of both of their legacies.

Washington is the reigning NHL regular-season champion having claimed the Presidents' Trophy for the second year in a row and third overall during the Ovechkin era.

But the only thing that matters is championships. That is where the Pens have the advantage. Pittsburgh has won four Stanley Cup championships in its existence compared to the Capitals' zero. The Pens have two Cups in the past eight seasons (2009 and '16). In all four title runs for Pittsburgh, the Pens have defeated the Caps during postseason play.

It is fitting that Pittsburgh, if it will repeat as champions, will once again have to go through its bitterest and most competitive rival.

As for the Capitals, if they are ever going to end their championship drought, this could be their year. But first they have to exorcise their own demons in the form of the Pens. Pittsburgh could be the last, and greatest, hurdle in Washington's championship ambitious.

This series had to happen. There could be no other route.

Destiny has brought the Pens and Caps together. Over the next two weeks both teams will decide their own fate.

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