It has been nearly one year to the day that the Pittsburgh Penguins took the ice at the Wells Fargo Center in southeastern Philadelphia.
The “Commonwealth Rivalry,” as it has come to be known in the Keystone State, will renew itself later this afternoon just off the shores of the Delaware River.
The Penguins and Flyers will renew this hatred with quite a lot at stake: valuable points in what is boiling down to a three-team race for two playoff spots. The Detroit Red Wings currently hold the 2nd and final playoff wildcard in the Eastern Conference.
The season will end on Saturday, April 9th for Pittsburgh in Philly. The Flyers meanwhile, will play one last time in the regular season the next day in Brooklyn against the New York Islanders.
Between now and the end of the regular season – a span of 12 games for Pittsburgh – they will play the Flyers three more times (including later today) with two of those meetings in Philadelphia.
To get you amped up for what should be a wild finish for each of these teams, here are some “highlights.”
Added Meaning, Added Hatred?
Judging by the video above, these two teams need no added motivation for getting the blood flowing. But with playoff points and positioning on the line, that’s just what they’ll get.
The Penguins are four points clear of the Flyers in the current standings, with Philly holding a game in hand. The Flyers, however, find themselves at this moment on the outside looking in at the Red Wings; sitting one point behind Detroit but with two games more to play than the Wings.
Philadelphia is five points ahead of both the New Jersey Devils and Carolina Hurricanes for the final wildcard spot; also with two games in hand on each of those teams.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs are clearly on the line for both teams in the final three weeks of the season. As previously stated, over those next three weeks these two clubs will face each other three more times.
Familiarity breeds contempt.
To prove this; you need only look back to 2012 and the drubbing that the Flyers handed the Penguins that year in the postseason.
Ever since that disastrous playoff series, Philly has seemingly had Pittsburgh’s number.
In the words of Penguins’ radio color commentator Phil Bourque “buckle up, baby.”
Peaking at the Right Time
While the Penguins have picked it up in their past ten games to the tune of a 7-3-0 record (four wins in a row); the Flyers have been even better – by three points to be exact – with a mark of 8-1-1 (winners of five of their past six, with the loss coming in a shootout).
Evgeni Malkin, now injured, had played in eight of those ten games for the Pens. His arch-nemesis Jakub Vorachek, however, has missed the Flyers previous nine games with a lower-body injury. The Penguins will be without Malkin while Philly is rumored to be getting Vorachek back for today’s tilt.
The two teams are having their successes in much different fashions. Pittsburgh started the year slow but never really fell too far out of playoff contention. Under new head coach Mike Sullivan the Pens haven’t lost more than two in a row, and last did so in mid-January in a home-and-home set with the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks.
The Flyers have, until recently, looked like a team destined for a lottery selection in June’s entry draft. They were among the league’s lowest-scoring teams until after the all-star break but now find themselves firmly entrenched in the three-team race for the East’s two wildcard positions; thanks in large part to the fact that since February 1st they’ve gotten points in 17 of 22 contests (12-5-2-3).
They say that you want to be playing your best hockey in March and April. These two teams are certainly doing that.
The Best are the Best
Claude Giroux has been a point-per-game player (2G-8A-10pts) in his past nine games.
The Flyers captain was sidelined for three games with what was likely a concussion; a little less than a month ago after taking a high hit from Montreal’s PK Subban. He has been one of the Flyers most durable players six of the past seven seasons playing nearly every game (the exception being 2012-1013 when he only played in 48 games) and now seems to be rounding into top-flight form.
On the Pittsburgh side, Sidney Crosby is currently riding a ten-game point streak (6G-10A-16pts) and is almost a 1.5 points-per-game player. The entire world is aware of the notoriously slow start the Pens’ captain had to the beginning of this campaign. But thanks in large part to a coaching change that allowed him more freedom to be creative, Crosby now finds himself 6th in scoring; just eight points out of 2nd place (Patrick Kane is currently running away with the points race with 92).
At this time of year, your best players need to play their best hockey. The captains for each of these teams are doing just that, and carrying their teams on their backs in the process.
This afternoon at 1 p.m, the Penguins and Flyers will renew acquaintances and exchange pleasantries once more.
With all that’s at stake for these two storied franchises from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; it will be must-see-TV.