New Pens, Flyers catching on to feud
Pascal Dupuis had a lot on his mind.
New baby coming, family in Atlanta, and the new Penguins forward was constantly confounded by the lay of Pittsburgh's land.
One otherwise typical March day, though, a local citizen provided him some perspective.
"I was walking to my car after practice, and the fans were outside (Mellon Arena) waiting for autographs," Dupuis said. "One stopped to ask me a question. At least I thought it would be a question. It wasn't.
"'You've got to beat the Flyers,' he said. "'We've got to be that Flyers.'"
"That's when I knew."
Pittsburghers and Philadelphians can co-exist, just not when it comes to their NHL teams.
Players for those respective clubs learn that much fairly fast.
"I remember seeing Gary Roberts fight Ben Eager after (Georges) Laraque got sucker-punched, and I'm thinking, 'Boy, this is tough,'" rookie defenseman Kris Letang said of a Penguins-Flyers brawl-marred game Dec. 11 at Wachovia Center.
"It was pretty intense. I asked some of the guys (and was told): 'It's the Flyers. They hate us. We hate them.'"
The Penguins may hate the Flyers. They don't always beat them, though.
Philadelphia was 5-3 against the Penguins during the regular season and leads the all-time series, 129-76-31. The Flyers have won each of three playoff series between the teams.
Dupuis said history would not matter when the Eastern Conference final involving Pennsylvania's two NHL teams opens Friday at Mellon Arena.
But history, at least from the perspective of fans who have lived it, is hard to ignore.
Those newest to the blood feud that is Penguins-Flyers insist only a few shifts are needed to figure out that much.
"It doesn't take long," said Flyers captain Jason Smith, who joined the fray this season after being acquired in an offseason trade. "You feel the intensity level bumped up and the energy and the excitement."
Philadelphia center Daniel Briere, another "Pennsylvania Cold War" newbie after signing with the Flyers last summer as a free agent, suggested one game would be enough to stir emotions between the teams.
"That sounds about right," right wing Marian Hossa said. "It's the playoffs, so you can't expect it to be the same as the regular season. But it doesn't take too long to feel the energy in the arenas when these two teams played.
"I noticed it my first game against them."
Hossa, along with Dupuis and defenseman Hal Gill, played only three games against the Flyers after joining the Penguins on Feb. 26 at the NHL trade deadline.
Due to an injury-related absence, his Penguins debut at Mellon Arena was March 16 against the Flyers.
"I smelled it right away," he said. "It's hard to explain. But you can smell something in the air. There's so much history. It's unspoken in the room. Nobody talks about it, but everybody knows it.
"I was part of something similar with the Senators. We played Toronto in the playoffs. They called it the 'Battle of Ontario.' Those games were just different, even in the playoffs. There was more than just a series at stake. It was bragging rights for the fans, and that made the energy in the buildings a lot different."
Be it a "Battle of Ontario," the "Pennsylvania Cold War" or an Original Six showdown between Boston and Montreal, no rivalry is so heated that it will cause players on either side to lose focus.
"I played in Boston when we played Montreal and Toronto when we played Ottawa," Gill said. "Rivalries are big things. But the conference final is bigger."
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