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Remembering the Caps-Flyers Rivalry

Posted October 31, 2013

This photo was not from the rivalry days. It was when Mike Knuble came back for a friendly game of hockey. (Photo by M. Richter)

It’s 1988 – just a year after the Capitals’ grueling quadruple-overtime loss to the Islanders in the Patrick Division Semi-Finals – and it looks like history is going to repeat itself.  Game seven, overtime, Philadelphia Flyers are the opponent, but still – the story looks all too familiar.  That is until Dale Hunter gets the puck. With five minutes and twenty-seven seconds left in the OT, he breaks away, dekes right, left, hits five-hole, and takes in the moment.  That goal, some say the most important in Capitals history, won more than just a playoff series.  The Caps reignited a rivalry with the Philadelphia Flyers.

It may have started in December of 1980 when the teams totaled 344 PIMs in one game.  Maybe it was in January of the same year when they fought an equally impressive and spectacular bench-clearing brawl featuring Bobby Clarke, Brian Propp, Robert Picard, and current Flyers GM, Paul Holmgren.

It may have started in 1984 when the two teams racked up 144 penalty minutes in the first period of game three in the Patrick Division Semi-Finals.

There’s also the 1989 series to consider. A year after Hunter’s devilish shot, the Flyers got revenge.  They took down the Caps 4 games to 2.  And goaltender Ron Hextall scored his second career goal, becoming the first goalie to score in the playoffs.  All on the Capitals’ watch.

And of course, there are the 2008 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, where the Broadstreet Bullies crushed the Caps’ Cinderella-like hopes with an overtime, power-play, game-winning goal.

But now, it’s 2013, and as we anticipate the teams meeting again this Friday, the question remains – does the rivalry still stand?  In my humble opinion, the answer is a resounding no.  Sure, in the name of nostalgia (and ratings) the NHL Network attempts to pit the two teams against each other.  Last season their match-ups headlined Wednesday’s “Rivalry Night.”  But has the spark died?

Unless the teams begin to imitate the explosive games of yesteryear – and faceoff in several tense playoff battles – it’s unlikely that the animosity can live on.  The tension has fizzled.  The strong personalities aren’t there.  And let’s face it, with the Flyers hunkered down in 29th and the Capitals nursing a tenuous 24th place, both teams are on the same bench.

Neither is the underdog, and neither can assert a real dominance over the other.  Both teams, at this point, are fighting to survive.  May the best team win.

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