With a 3-2 win vs. Washington on April 28, 1996, the Pittsburgh Penguins eliminated the Capitals in 6 games and made a little history along the way.
By the spring of 1996, there was one certainty for the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals in the postseason, that they would play each other. The two teams met five times in six seasons, with Pittsburgh winning all the series except for 1994.
Early Series Pain
Pittsburgh thought they had game 1 of the series all but won when they built up a 4-1 lead midway through the second period, but with 5 unanswered goals from Washington, the penguins were served a huge piece of humble pie and handed a 6-4 loss.
The game marked the fifth consecutive time Pittsburgh dropped game 1 to the Capitals, and if there was any good news for the Penguins following the collapse it was they won three of four series and did it twice from a 3-1 disadvantage.
The Penguins saw another lead dissolve, as they surrendered a 2-0 lead to the Capitals, and lost the game by a score of 5-3, and found themselves down two games to none.
Only 9 times since 1939, had a team rallied back from suffering two losses at home to win a series. The 1991 and 1992 Penguins battled back from 2-0 deficits but those losses were on the road.
The Capitals key to success was simple, they built an effective powerplay.
Washington went 0-20 on the powerplay in their regular-season series vs. Pittsburgh and were 4 for 11 (1 for 5 in game 1 and 3 for 6 in game 2) through the first two games of the playoffs.
Mid Series Gains
The stars finally aligned for Pittsburgh in game 3 of the series, after Mario Lemieux broke out and earned assists on all four of Pittsburgh’s goals. Tom Barrasso also played strong in goal making 38 stops.
With seven regulars out of the line up for Washington, the cracks were beginning to show.
Aside from the history made in this game, it is interesting to note that none of the five goals scored were at even strength.
The Good Guys Win Again
Lemieux scored his first goal of the series, and Ken Wregget made 39 saves on 40 shots in Pittsburgh’s most decisive victory of the series.
The blood began to boil as the team’s combined for over 90 minutes in penalties (70 PIM for Washington and 52 PIM for Pittsburgh) in the Penguins 4-1 win.
The Capitals did not go down without a fight and came close to tying the game in the third period, but ultimately failed to do so and succumb to the Penguins in game 6 by a score of 3-2.
After dropping, the first two games, Pittsburgh rattled off four consecutive victories and moved on to a second-round match up with the New York Rangers. Penguins coach Eddie Johnston had to delay his celebration of the series victory after taking a puck to the head.
One of the keys to the Penguins success was their ability to shut down the Capitals powerplay following game 4. Washington’s powerplay went 0 for 11 in the final two games of the series.
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