Keystone State rivals collide as Flyers face Penguins

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

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

“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.

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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

“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

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.