WASHINGTON — Sometimes a rivalry is born of geographical proximity. Other times it’s the sheer volume of games. Then, there are rivalries born of big games.
The Lightning and Capitals are option C. They played good games before 2018, but didn’t really care about each other deeply.
Now, these are games you circle on the calendar.
Coach Jon Cooper pointed out it’s amazing what a seven-game playoff series can do to build a rivalry. The 2018 Eastern Conference Final carries a little more weight when you consider some of the Capitals players have pointed to it as a catalyst on their run to the Stanley Cup.
After that series loss, the Lightning went into last season looking for the Caps. There’s been a little extra fire in these games since.
“The schedule makers have done a good job of helping us build that rivalry,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden pointed out. “Once you have a seven-game series the year prior and then you start swinging it into the next season where there’s games in a short period of time, then that helps that rivalry. And I think it’s a good one for the game.”
Last year, these teams played three games in 16 days. This season, they’re a little more spread out — three games in 23 days.
These teams are built similarly with strong cores who have been there for a while. They each have a very good goaltender, depth and a whole lot of skill. Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos have two of the best shots in the league. The two stand alone with the best one-timers in the league, both specializing in power-play goals from the left circle.
No wonder the Lightning and Capitals play such good games. The last two games they’ve played at Capital One Arena have gone into overtime. The other two they played last year finished more lopsided (a 6-3 win for each team) than they played.
“They’re always fun games to play,” Victor Hedman said. “They’re an elite team, we’re an elite team. They obviously have the thing we want. They won it two years ago and that’s what we’re aiming for.”
In case there’s any question, he was talking about the Cup. And once again, it feels like a Cup run could go through Washington.