The regular-season finale for the NHL's best rivalry takes place tonight in what is hopefully just the appetizer and not the dessert this season.
Please, please, give us more of this when it really counts. In the meantime, we'll settle for the fourth and final regular-season meeting between NHL-leading Washington and reigning Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh.
"The Washington games always seem to bring out the best in both teams," Penguins GM Ray Shero told ESPN.com on Monday evening. "There's a lot more intensity, emotion and urgency in everyone's game. You have to be real good against a team like Washington just to have a chance to win."
The Penguins, despite solid efforts in their past two encounters against the Caps, are looking to break that ugly goose egg in the win column against their rivals.
"We're definitely looking for that," Penguins veteran winger Bill Guerin told ESPN.com on Monday night. "They've played well against us this year. The last two games have been good games. One thing about them is that I think they bring out the best in us and we do the same for them."
The Caps needed overtime and then a shootout to win the past two games against Pittsburgh; but, nevertheless, it still goes in the books as a perfect 3-0-0 record for Washington, which can sweep the season series over their former Patrick Division rivals for the first time in team history (Caps senior PR man Nate Ewell tells me their previous best was 6-0-1 in 1984-85).
Beating Pittsburgh in the regular season is nothing new of late. Since Bruce Boudreau took over behind the Caps' bench during the 2007-08 season, Washington has a 7-1-2 record against Pittsburgh. Of course, the Pens got it done when it mattered in last spring's memorable seven-game series, which spurred Pittsburgh on to its Cup triumph. In other words, what happens in the regular season may not necessarily translate in the playoffs, even if the Pens are winless in nine games this season against New Jersey and Washington combined.
"It's not really on my radar right now because we're not playing any of these two teams in the first round," said Shero, referring to the 0-7-2 mark against the Devils/Caps this season. "The playoffs will be the start of a new season for 16 teams. What's done or what you think you might do doesn't mean a darn thing. ... Some teams will be shocked, some team will be happy, some will be sad. That's the new season."
But first is the rest of the regular season. The Caps are in Pittsburgh with the Presidents' Trophy already in tow, an offensive machine running away with the goals lead in the NHL and making it look like it's the 1980s all over again. They've got plenty of respect in the Penguins' dressing room.
"I think they're a deeper team this year," said Guerin. "They're so powerful offensively. It's unbelievable. I haven't seen too many teams like that."
There's more than pride on the line tonight for Pittsburgh. The Pens are tied for the Atlantic Division lead with New Jersey (amazingly enough despite the 0-6-0 mark against the Devils) and want to grab that divisional title in order to place second or third in the conference, not to mention avoid a possible matchup with the Caps in the second round.
"It's important to us," said Guerin. "You want to solidify the highest seed possible in your conference, and for us that's the second seed, and for that we have to win our division. That's definitely a goal of ours.''
Whether it's the division battle with New Jersey or the mental battle with Washington, Pittsburgh clearly needs this one tonight. It could make it that much sweeter for the Caps if they make it a perfect 4-0-0.