Revisiting The Start of This Capitals vs Hurricanes Rivalry

Washington Capitals (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Washington Capitals (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

The year was 2019. Your Washington Capitals are the reigning Stanley Cup champions. After years of disappointment in the post season this team is finally standing on the top of the hockey world. The pressure, at least in some ways, is now off of this team. No longer do they “have to” win. Legacies, at least somewhat, have been cemented. Alex Ovechkin got his Cup, and the rest of this team has put themselves in the hearts and minds of Capitals fans everywhere forever.

The team looked mostly the same. Just a little change here and there. But the biggest change coming behind the bench. Barry Trotz and the team decided to part ways. He would go on to lead the New York Islanders, the Capitals now being run by his former assistant Todd Reirden.

In the regular season he and the team did well. At least when you talk about results. The Capitals went on to win their division with a record of 48-26-8, good for 104 points. Thanks to winning their division the Caps earned the right to play the top wild card team. That year that team was the Carolina Hurricanes.

This was the Canes first playoff appearance since 2009. It was a team led by some very good young players. Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, Dougie Hamilton on defense, and rookie Andrei Svechnikov. They also had a couple of veterans, notably Jordan Staal and former friend in Justin Williams in his second season with Carolina.

This team was also led by Rod Brind’Amour, a team legend as a player. The Captain of their Stanley Cup winning team in 2006.

The table has been set. Established vs the upcoming side. The reigning champions vs a team playing playoff hockey for the first time in a decade. This is where a rivalry was born.

I remember this series being very physical. This Hurricanes team was ready to play playoff hockey. The Capitals were apparently ready as well though. The first two games ending well for the Cup holders, with the Capitals taking a 2-0 lead to Carolina.

You could argue, this rivalry started in Carolina over the next couple of games.

Game 3 was not close. Not even a little. You might say that game was always going to be a loss though. The Capitals were up 2-0 in the series, it’s a must win for Carolina and on top of that they are playing their first home playoff game since 2009. That was always going to be a hard game to win, for any team. A hard game it was.

Carolina would end up winning that game 5-0. The score is one thing, some other stats show how one sided that game was. Like shots for instance that ended 45-18. While at full and even strength the shot attempts ended 51-28. It was an ugly game.

The ugliness went beyond the score too. Early in that game Alex Ovechkin would put himself squarely in the hate goggles of Hurricanes fans for a long time. Ovechkin ended up fighting star rookie Svechnikov and that fight did not end well for the young man. Svechnikov ended up out cold on the ice after after a big right hand from the veteran Ovechkin.

This moment was talked about a lot. Sparking some stupid comments from fans, which is to be expected, but more annoyingly, people in sports, and people who never even watch hockey.

Hurricanes coach Brind’Amour also blamed Ovechkin for the moment and now Capitals fans really don’t like the Carolina bench boss, if they didn’t already dislike him.

This division rivalry that didn’t really have that much steam, seemingly in the blink of an eye turned into a blood rivalry.

In Game 4 it was the Capitals turn to lose a player on a debatable play. Late in the game with the Caps down a goal T.J. Oshie gets shoved from behind and went hard into the boards. He would skate off the ice bent over and in obvious pain. There was a penalty on the play, but that wouldn’t help the feelings of the Capitals and their fans.

Caps coach Reirden would call the play “extremely dangerous” and say that Oshie was “a defenseless player.” When you watch the replay you would have to agree.

Meanwhile the Canes coach would say, “You see a lot of hits that are way, way worse than that. I think he just went in awkward” that would obviously anger a lot of Capitals fans.

Hurricanes fans now easily hate the Capitals and Ovechkin. Capitals fans now easily hate the Hurricanes and mostly their head coach Brind’Amour.

The series would continue. The Capitals would win a one sided Game 5 and take a 3-2 series lead after giving up a 2-0 series lead. The Hurricanes would again win a fairly convincing game at home, winning 5-2 and sending this series to a seventh game.

That seventh game would end the Capitals reign. You’re the Stanley Cup champions until you lose. The Hurricanes ended the back to back bid early. Just like the series, the Caps had an early 2-0 lead which then turned into a 3-1 lead. Carolina would tie the game at three early in the third which would send Game 7 to OT.

Watching that game, the later it got, you could just feel the loss coming for Washington. In the two overtimes shot attempts were 37-17, scoring chances were 14-6 and high danger attempts were 10-3. You could tell Carolina wanted it more.

Hockey is weird, and teams can win with a dumb bounce or a single mistake from the dominating team. But unfortunately for the Capitals they did not get a bounce. Carolina won in double overtime sending the Caps home.

The Capitals experience as the top team was over. The Hurricanes would go on to play Barry Trotz and his Islanders. They would also win that series before ultimately falling to the Boston Bruins in the conference finals.

You could probably say these are two franchises that are going in opposite directions since this series as well. At this time, the Hurricanes were the young team on the rise. Now, here we are in 2023 and they are the class of the Metropolitan Division.

The Capitals on the other hand, would start to decline a bit after this season. They did finish the COVID shortened season first in the division, but the bubble playoff performance left a lot to be desired. Head coach Todd Reirden was fired after this performance.

Under new and current coach Peter Laviolette the Capitals would again have a good season in a reshaped league, again thanks to COVID. But again the Caps would have a lackluster looking playoffs and were sent home early for the third straight season. Finally, after having a good season securing 100 points in the standings, the team still was only able to finish as the second wild card team, playing the Panthers in the first round and again losing.

The Hurricanes meanwhile, while not having a ton of postseason success have at least won one playoff series each season since then. They won their division in the COVID season and then won the metro division last season, and seem like they will win the division again this season. The Hurricanes have replaced the Capitals as the class of the division, which Capitals fans will obviously not love.

Over time the rivalry has remained. Events have happened in games. The teams have remained good, the games have remained important. Coaches and players have said things.

After being in the same division for so long it was the 2019 playoffs that finally turned these teams into legit rivals. Now here we are. Getting ready for an outdoor game between the two. A game which should be interesting to watch.

The two teams just met a few days ago. Carolina winning that game. You would have to think the Capitals want revenge. What better way for revenge than beating a team outdoors in their hometown? The Canes will obviously not want that to happen, you have to expect they will be ready to go. Finally, the Capitals will need to start getting desperate due to their position in the standings. They need every point and win that they can get their hands on.

Hot. Revisiting the Washington Capitals Outdoor Game History. light

The rivalry is on. It’s been on for a few years now, and you can thank the 2019 playoffs for that.