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Penguins Vs. Capitals: Longtime Rivals Clash In 2011 Winter Classic Preview

The real big game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals isn't happening until January 1, when the two teams will clash in Pittsburgh for the 2011 Winter Classic. Tonight, though, is still a big game for both teams, as they will do battle tonight at the Verizon Center in a prelude to the January 1 showdown.

One week ago, it was Sidney Crosby and the Penguins who were flying high. They had won 12 games in a row from late November to early December. But that streak ended with losses to Philadelphia and New York, though they have won their past two games. Meanwhile, the Capitals, thanks in part to a locker-room speech by Mike Knuble, have righted the ship after eight straight losses. They rallied to defeat the Ottawa Senators 3-2 on Sunday, then routed the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday. Things appear to be looking up in D.C.

Under normal circumstances, this would be a big game. The two teams are second and third in the Eastern Conference, with 48 and 44 points, respectively, and they are historic rivals. However, thanks to HBO's 24/7 series, this game carries extra significance. We've learned a lot more about both teams, and we will learn a lot about this specific game in next week's episode.

We'll have live updates from Verizon Center all night, so stay tuned.