Keystone State rivals collide as Flyers face Penguins - The Hockey News on Sports Illustrated

Keystone State rivals collide as Flyers face Penguins

Author:
Publish date:

Philadelphia at Pittsburgh, Eastern Conference quarterfinal, Game One, 7 p.m. EDT

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- This ought to be good.

It's common for playoff opponents to talk about not liking each

other, but the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins truly

don't. They haven't since the moment they entered the NHL

together as expansion teams in 1967, and they almost certainly

never will. How could they?

This oft-bloody, always contentious series not only spawned the

longest game of the NHL's modern era (the Flyers' five-OT

playoff win in 2000) but may have shortened the careers of Eric

Lindros and Mario Lemieux. More recently, it caused Sidney

Crosby to lose a couple of teeth but gain a wealth of respect as

an 18-year-old during his very first game in Philadelphia.

"You learn quickly how big the rivalry is," Penguins forward

Chris Kunitz said Tuesday.

Now, they're going at each other in the playoffs for the second

season in a row, a first in the ever-so-nasty rivalry's 42-year

history. If there's anything the two teams agree on, it's that

this series won't be anything like the Penguins' five-game romp

over the injury-thinned Flyers in last season's Eastern

Conference finals.

"The rivalry here is well known," Flyers coach John Stevens

said. "The teams don't like each other very much. Any time you

play a team two years a row in the playoffs, the emotions roll

over."

They're rolling right into what might be the best of the NHL's

quarterfinals, a first-round series that begins Wednesday night

in Pittsburgh but may feel like a 15-rounder before it's

decided. Or much like it did to a weary Lemieux in 1997, when he

retired for the first time following a playoff series loss to

Philadelphia.

"You have some rivalries, some players you dislike, and I'm sure

it's the same over there," Flyers captain Mike Richards said.

The Flyers can kick only themselves for opening on the road;

their Sunday loss to the Rangers resulted in Pittsburgh being

seeded fourth and the Flyers fifth in the Eastern Conference.

The Flyers were 11-10-2 down the stretch, compared to the

Penguins' 18-3-4.

"Whatever you did in the season, it's all over. You start at

zero again," the Flyers' Simon Gagne said. "Sure it's nice to

have all those points and goals in the season but the real game

is starting. A lot of players make their reputation when they

play in the playoffs."

A year ago, injuries sidelined Gagne and defensemen Kimmo

Timonen and Braydon Coburn against the Penguins, who outscored

Philadelphia 20-9 in the conference finals and 6-0 in the

decisive Game 5. All three are ready to go now.

There's also this obstacle for the Penguins: Since that 1967

expansion, only the Edmonton Oilers in 1984 won the Stanley Cup

a season after losing in the finals. Blame the fatigue of one

extended season carrying over into another, but most losing

finalists never get close to going back a year later.

With two of the NHL's top three scorers in Evgeni Malkin and

Crosby, plus plenty of momentum from their late-season surge,

the Penguins believe they're positioned to make another extended

run.

"I think it's harder due to the quality of teams, the quality of

players in the league, than maybe it was previously," Penguins

coach Dan Bylsma said. "I don't think it has a lot to do with

being tired or having a short offseason."

The Penguins, who were in danger of missing the playoffs until

they got hot after Bylsma replaced Michel Therrien in

mid-February, want only "to keep playing like we've been

playing," according to defenseman Sergei Gonchar.

That means constantly pressuring the puck, rolling three

productive lines led by Malkin, Crosby and Jordan Staal and

getting more strong play from goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who

is 16-3-3 since Feb. 19. Crosby has 20 goals and 26 assists in

26 games against Philadelphia, and Malkin has 13 goals and 18

assists in 21 games.

"A mental edge, we're going to try to get it in certain ways,

and hopefully we get that with how we play and how we need to

play -- grind them down on the ice," Bylsma said. "That will

speak for itself and that will be the goal for the team."

To counter Pittsburgh's considerable skill, the Flyers must find

scoring throughout a lineup that has six players with 25 or more

goals, led by Jeff Carter with 46.

They also must be at their agitating, feisty best to keep the

Malkin and Crosby lines off balance; Timonen and two-way center

Richards are keys to that. So is goalie Martin Biron, who was

29-19-5 this season.

"Mike (Richards) can't play against both of them, can't play 40

minutes, so we're going to have to do it by committee," Stevens

said. "Crosby is a competitive guy. He competes at a very high

level."

The Flyers learned that in Crosby's rookie season in 2005, when

defenseman Derian Hatcher repeatedly bloodied the youngster with

his stick only to have Crosby return after getting stitched up

to score the game-winner in overtime.

Welcome to the rivalry.

TOP HEADLINES