By Austin Rowley and Braden Kruger –
“We don’t like each other,” Pittsburgh Penguins captain, Sidney Crosby said. “You can dissect it all you want, but the fact is we don’t like each other.”
Over the next two weeks, the home-state teams will play up to seven times.
When it comes to rivalries in sports, people are quick to name the ones that get the most media coverage: North Carolina-Duke, Yankees-Red Sox, Michigan-Ohio State. The sport of hockey is often overlooked in terms of searching for a fierce rivalry.
Even casual fans of the National Hockey League can come to a consensus that the rivalry between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Pittsburgh Penguins is about as nasty as rivalries get in sports. The rivalry is better known as The Battle of Pennsylvania.
“It’s a good rivalry and is going to make for an intense series,” said Penn Manor High School senior, Matt Kersic.
The two teams meet six times in the regular season, because they have the luck of playing in the same division in the Eastern Conference. This particular season, the Flyers won four of the six meetings.
The same two clubs have the opportunity to meet up to seven more times when they square off in the quarterfinals of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Science teacher at Penn Manor, Matt Fox, a hockey fan, agreed with Kersic. “It’s a good rivalry that has evolved over the years.”
Since their inductions into the league, the Flyers and Penguins have had bad blood every time they’ve been in competition. In more recent memory, there was a scrum involving Scott Hartnell and Nicklas Grossmann of the Flyers, and Chris Kunitz and Paul Martin of the Penguins during the meeting on March 18. Hartnell would later add insult to injury and score the game winning goal with 0.9 seconds remaining on the clock in the overtime period.
Just two weeks later, the fisticuffs picked up where they left off. With the game out of hand, the Flyers were up on the Penguins 6-3. Sidney Crosby whacked Flyer rookie winger Brayden Schenn. In an act of retaliation, Schenn cross-checked him in the back. Crosby looked for a call, but the officials considered the play to be even at that point.
Dan Bylsma then sent his checking-line out to respond to Schenn’s cross-check. Penguins center Joe Vitale lined up a devastating hit on a Flyers key-forward, Danny Briere, and as a result, a brawl ensued.
All 10 players on the ice engaged in the brawl, and coaches even standing on the boards exchanged words with one another.
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette was displeased that their checking-line was sent on in the closing moments of a game that was well out of hand.
“It’s gutless of their coach to send them out there. That line until that point didn’t play for twelve minutes. It’s just a gutless move.”
The hockey world will be watching the series closely, knowing the animosity that resides between the two teams.
In Penn Manor, there seems to be a split among students and staff and all of a sudden, it becomes a matter of taking sides.
Penn Manor Senior James Frese, a Penguins fan, believes Pittsburgh has too much firepower for the Flyers to handle. “The powerhouse of Kunitz, Neal, and Malkin will be hard for the Flyers to stop,” he said.
Another Penn Manor Senior, Chris Flemming, is a Flyers fan. “I think Bryzgalov will have to be on his A-game for the Flyers to do well,” said Flemming. “The Flyers will win the series though, no doubt.”
“I think the Flyers will win the series in five games,” said Penn Manor junior, Matt Gue.
Professional predictions go against both Gue and Flemming, however. Out of 16 predictions on the NHL.com, 12 writers are picking the Penguins to win the first-round against the Flyers, but 10 of those same 12 writers picked the Penguins to win the Stanley Cup.
For as evenly matched as the two teams are on paper and in the six previous meetings, 75 percent of the predictions going to one side seems a little out of balance.
That’s why they play the game though.
In six regular season meetings, the Flyers won four out of the six contests. In two of the cases, the Flyers have erased two 2-0 deficits to win, 3-2 on March 18, and 6-4 on April 1 respectively.
The regular season means nothing come playoff time though. Most people refer to the playoffs as, “The Second Season,” because everything that happened in the “first” season, is out the window. Anything can happen.
This series has the most hype going into the playoffs, and it will certainly draw the attentions of many in Pennsylvania, let alone, the entire hockey world.