Penguins, Flyers continue their heated rivalry in opener
Eddie Olczyk hoped to spend this day in Philadelphia.
There was a reason other than catching up with son Tommy, captain of the Penn State hockey team that will face Vermont at Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night.
The hockey matinee in the City of Brotherly Love deserved his attention, too.
“From my experience with it having played, coached and called the games,this is the highest the rivalry has ever been,” Olczyk, an NBC analyst, said of the Penguins-Flyers rivalry — also known as the Commonwealth Cold War — that resumes just after 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
The truncated 48-game NHL season opens with the Penguins facing their hated division opponent, the game coming eight months after the Flyers eliminated the Penguins in six games of a high-scoring and heated first-round Stanley Cup playoff series.
“The series from last year is fresh in our minds,” said Olczyk, who will be in Los Angeles broadcasting the Kings-Blackhawks game instead. “And there have been some great playoff battles recently. But there are big names in this thing — the emergence of (new Flyers captain Claude) Giroux, all that star power in Pittsburgh with Sidney (Crosby) and (Evgeni) Malkin — and the best part is there is just no love lost.”
Crosby and Giroux, two of the few players capable of unseating Malkin as the NHL scoring champion, generated headlines for fighting during Game 3 last spring. And Crosby, normally known for his political correctness, broke form in front of the microphones during the series.
“I don't like any guy on their team,” Crosby said then.
“I agree with Sid,” Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said Wednesday. “He got that one right.”
By the way, one of the guys on “their team” is Max Talbot, the Penguins' Game 7 hero in the 2009 Cup Final, and, at least then, the closest friend Crosby and Fleury shared.
These franchises cannot shake the histories they share:
• They broke into the NHL together in 1967.
• Each followed its first championship with a second one the next season. The Flyers struck silver first, raising the Stanley Cup in 1974 and defending the next year. The Penguins needed until 1991 to grab it but refused to let go a year later.
• The best players for both franchises are hockey icons beyond either the Monongahela or Schuylkill rivers. Bobby Clarke set a standard for combining skill and grit. Mario Lemieux is the standard against which natural talents are judged.
“What makes this rivalry special to me, and this was true when I was in Pittsburgh, is that the players now are making their own contributions,” Talbot said during the playoffs.
“This rivalry is like a living thing. It's not something you're just told about.”
For all of the fun Penguins fans had with bears (Ilya Bryzgalov) and ribs (Peter Laviolette) last spring, the summer was long in Pittsburgh because the Flyers slammed shut the “Big Three” era of Crosby, Malkin and since-traded center Jordan Staal.
It almost made it worse that the Flyers bowed meekly to the New Jersey Devils after pushing the Penguins from the playoffs.
“I think we felt this summer like the Flyers probably did in 2009,” Penguins general manager Ray Shero said. “You think you have a good team, and you play a good team that is your big rival in the first round, and somebody has to lose — and it hurts.”
Shero, of course, is the son of Fred Shero, who coached those Cup-winning Flyers.
The Penguins have won the Cup three times (1991, '92 and 2009) since the Flyers' last touched it.
The Flyers have played for the Cup more recently (2010) than the Penguins.
“I know,” Malkin said. “That's not good. (It) must change.”
This rivalry is as good as it gets, both sides believe, and it gets going Saturday for a newcomer to the nastiness.
“In Carolina, we never really had a big rival,” said new Penguins center Brandon Sutter. “So, I'm just trying to treat this like any other game. I mean, it's my first game as a Penguin.
“But, yeah, all the guys tell me it's not just any other game. It's the Flyers. So I guess I'll find out what it's all about.”