Installment No. 6 in an occasional series highlighting the most memorable game in which players participated as a member of the Penguins.
Player: Bill Guerin
Date: March 8, 2009
Game: No. 67 of the 2008-09 regular season
Site: Verizon Center, Washington, D.C.
Result: Penguins, 4-3 (shootout)
Three stars: 1) Penguins C Sidney Crosby. 2) Penguins RW Bill Guerin. 3) Capitals C Brooks Laich.
Guerin was on his eighth NHL team, and deep into his 17th professional season, when Ray Shero acquired him from the New York Islanders at trade deadline in 2009, so he knew a bit about rivalries.
He'd been immersed in the ferocious competition between, among others, New Jersey and the New York Rangers. Calgary and Edmonton. Boston and Montreal.
And in just his second game with the Penguins, Guerin realized that what the Penguins had with Washington was the equal of any of those, in part because of the individual competition between Crosby and Capitals left winger Alex Ovechkin.
"It was really eye-opening for me," Guerin said. "It was a regular-season game, but the Sid-Ovi battle (was ongoing) and we were trying to get into the playoffs and there was so much hype, attention on the game. I hadn't been in a regular-season game with that type of attention in a long, long time. The game was unbelievable.
"It was (like) a playoff game. The hatred was there. There was a lot of pushing and shoving after whistles. There was a lot of Sid and Ovi going back at each other. There was just a lot of young firepower, the new stars of the league, and they were on the big stage. I was just kind of like this new part. A new spectator to it, except that I got to play in the game. It was just really cool."
Truth be told, Guerin, playing on a line with Crosby and Chris Kunitz, didn't just get to play in that game; he got to be a major force in how it played out.
Guerin set up the Crosby goal that gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead, then assisted on the Sergei Gonchar goal that put them back in front, 2-1. He wasn't finished then, though, scoring the Penguins' third goal, off assists from Crosby and Kris Letang.
Washington battled back from a 3-1 deficit on goals from Overckin and Laich to force overtime before Crosby ultimately beat Capitals goalie Jose Theodore for the shootout-deciding goal.
But even though Guerin was the top point-producer on either team, that's not what made an enduring impression on him. Fact is, he never mentioned it while discussing the events of that evening.
Instead, he focused on "the atmosphere and the buildup" surrounding the game. The Crosby-Ovechkin matchup. The Penguins-Capitals relationship that had reached cobra-mongoose levels before he arrived, and the feelings all of that spawned in the dressing room before the opening faceoff.
"There was tension in there," Guerin said. "You could cut it with knife. This game meant something. It wasn't just a regular-season game. We were going into the lion's den. This was going to be a battle."
It was neither the first nor the last of those between these teams, and the emotions of all concerned were -- and are -- only compounded by the Crosby-Ovechkin showdowns that remain as intense now as they were on that night more than 11 years ago.
"I hadn't been around something like that in a long time," Guerin said. "I'd played with superstar players before, but nothing like playing with Sid, who was the new face of the game, and the guy who was right behind him, in Ovechkin. This was the new Gretzky-Lemieux.
"They were the two biggest stars in the game, and (the teams) are right down the highway from each other. Same division, and we met up all the time. It made it for great hockey."
The Penguins played a lot of it that spring, including a seven-game victory over Washington in Round 2 of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Even before that shootout victory at Verizon Center in his second game with the Penguins, Guerin had sensed that the group had the potential for greatness. What transpired then only reinforced his belief.
"Besides the game or the outcome of the game, or any points or anything like that, it was the feeling I got around the team," he said. "It just had a good feeling to it.
"I'd played my first game in Florida, and it was a big thrill. I remember (coach Dan Bylsma) put me out on the ice after we scored a goal and I looked in the middle and there was Sid, and then I looked across and there was (Evgeni Malkin). I was like, 'Wow. This could be pretty good.' "
A few months later, he got a Stanley Cup ring that proved he was correct.
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