"It's exciting to be part of a team that has a genuine hatred of somebody." Andrew Gordon, on the Caps-Pens rivalry.

Mid-way through the third period in last night's undressing of New Jersey, many of the Verizon Center faithful joined in a chorus not unfamiliar in these parts. 

Reminiscent of old RFK Stadium during the Washington NFL team's hey-day, when fans were still proud of that team and taunted their upcoming rival with chants of "WE WANT DALLAS!", some Washington Capitals fans picked up the time-honored tradition and started chanting "WE WANT PITTSBURGH!"

You'll have to forgive that section of the fan base right now.  After suffering along with the team on an eight-game losing streak, the 5-1 win over the previously vaunted, now struggling Devils -- in combination with a 3-2 road win over Ottawa Sunday night -- must have left them practically giddy.

It's certainly premature to be taunting one of the league's best teams considering the events of the past three weeks.  But with all the attention Thursday's game is getting as a prelude to the Winter Classic game on New Year's Day and the modest two-game win streak, you have to give it to folks for wanting to stir the pot with the Penguins coming to town.

Since last night's game was carried by Versus Network, news of course travelled quickly to Western PA.  And responses ranged from measured and appropriate to foul-mouthed from that section of the interwebs.

But how, exactly, do the players and coaches see this rivalry?

Many of the players on the Capitals were barely skating the first time this franchise lost to the Penguins in the playoffs (waaay back in 1991), and most were blissfully unaware as repeated attempts to beat the Pens in the second season fell unsuccessful.

They all know how important it is to them personally, their captains, their organizations, and the league.  But do they really have a sense of how important even a seemingly innocent regular season game is in the long-term rivalry for fans of the Capitals, repeatedly disappointed at the hands of Mario Lemieux, Rick Tocchet, Ron Francis, Sidney Crosby, et al?

Caps fans, whether they like to admit it or not, have an inferiority complex when it comes to the Penguins.  And rightfully so.  They have what all Caps fans want.  The Stanley Cup.  League-wide respect.  To be taken seriously as a hockey town.

Those demons won't be exorcised until the Caps bring home a Cup.  And they will have to go through Pittsburgh to do it.

Here's a sampling of the locker room today on the rivalry with the Penguins and what it means to the coaches and players and their interpretation of what it means to the fans.

John Carlson:  "I think that anytime there's a rivalry it's added intensity for the fans.  We come to work everyday and do the same things everyday and the games change and we have to show up and battle whatever team it is -- rivalry or not.  But there's a lot more intensity.  You can feel it in the building sometimes when the fans are really really into it.  They're always great, but you'll see on Thursday everyone's really enjoying it, not just us."

"Our fans expect the best from us and they know the rivalry and want us to beat [the Penguins] just as much as we want to beat them, so they're right behind us."

Andrew Gordon:  "With the teams in proximity like this, I know that there's been the rivalry...the two areas don't really like each other regardless what sport you're playing.  When Sidney was drafted there and Ovi here, it just ratcheted it up that much more. It's exciting to be part of a team that has a genuine hatred of somebody --in Hershey we have that same thing with Wilkes-Barre -- I remember the first day I walked into that dressing room it was just a known fact that we do not like losing to that team and it's sort of bred into you. Now everyone comes into this organization feels the same way [about the Penguins] so when you see Pittsburgh on the schedule you get amped up.  You know you're going to play against a team that's at their best cause they want to beat you just as badly as you want to beat them."

Mike Knuble:  "[Pittsburgh's] still the top team in the conference and to do well you have to play well against them.  They've been on an incredible run, and we've been on an incredible run in the other direction.  It should be a great hockey game.  They're a great team and should be a good measuring stick for us to see if what we're doing is really in the right direction."

Matt Hendricks:  "Being at home, on our rink, with our fans, I think it's gonna be a great night for hockey.  Been looking forward to this rivalry all season.  We've got a chance to have a three-game winning streak going into the break, which the biggest importance to us, I think, are the two points.  With all the extra-curriculars and the Winter Classic coming up against them real soon, maybe it s a little preview to what we're gonna have."

Alex Ovechkin: "Yeah, crowd wants to play against those guys, we wanna play them too, so it's gonna be a big matchup and a pretty exciting game too. Tomorrow's very important -- mentally -- game for us.  We won two games in a row, end the losing streak, but tomorrow we're gonna try to take three wins in a row and have good days off."

Coach Bruce Boudreau:  "We're looking forward to the game because the build-up has been so big.  I don't know anything about 'the script' [HBO's 24/7].  [Pittsburgh] hasn't stopped winning, they had a little blip on the radar.  We're in, like, a mini-turnaround.  We're not where we want to be, but it's better than going in 0-10.  It's a great barometer to see where we're at."

"They're a great team and we have a good rivalry against them.  It's one of the great things HBO is going to be able to catch is all the talk and what we think goes on, will go on."

So you can see, there's some appreciation of the historic rivalry, but the active coaches and players are concentrating more on the actual game and what it means to them.  They know and understand they are playing for Washington hockey fans' civic pride, but the two points in the standing right now are more important.