PITTSBURGH — Matt Cooke wants to make something clear now that the long-awaited Flyers-Penguins playoff series is finally here.
The Penguins are not – with the emphasis on "not" – playing the Broad Street Bullies in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Flyers-Penguins regular season game April 1 was intense and physical and wound down with two coaches screaming at each other as all 10 skaters on the ice skirmished briefly. Flyers coach Peter Laviolette was incensed by a clean but hard hit by center Joe Vitale on Flyers forward Danny Briere and was highly critical of the Penguins and coach Dan Bylsma.
After the teams met again this past Sunday in a far-less-emotional game, Flyers forward Scott Hartnell said he expected this series to be a "bloodbath."
However, the Penguins believe the Flyers teams they defeated in the 2008 and 2009 playoffs better fit the Broad Street Bullies stereotype. To them, these Flyers are built around elements other than tough guys and a push-it-to-the-limits mentality.
"I mean they're not a bruiser team. They don't physically punish you, I wouldn't say, any more than the way we want to play,” Cooke said following the morning skate at Consol Energy Center. "They have that persona from the 1970s and that’s what the Philadelphia Flyers are about. They have a lot of skill over there. They play a skill game and they look for turnovers. Those are the things that are going to win them games, not physical play."
Not that the Flyers don’t have agitator-type players that try to disrupt and distract a team. After that April 1 game, Penguins star Sidney Crosby acknowledged he gave more retaliatory hits than in any recent game he can remember.
The Flyers also are expected to try to provoke Art Ross Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin into taking a retaliatory penalty – he can be prone to doing that – that not only puts Philadelphia on the power play but takes one of the NHL’s most creative offensive players off the ice. Malkin had 70 penalty minutes this season – 26 more than long-reputed agitator Cooke, for example.
“They’ve got certain players that are willing to irritate guys," Cooke said. "I think that's a situation where playing three games against them late in the season are fresh in our memories and make us understand and realize how we have to defend against that."
While the Flyers may not try to beat up an opponent at the same time it is trying to defeat it, Bylsma said the Penguins must be prepared for the offensive pace Philadelphia will attempt to mount with all four lines.
“This is a team that keeps coming at you," Bylsma said.
Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy is expected to play only two weeks after having arthroscopic knee surgery; he was expected to be out for three-to-four weeks. Defenseman Matt Niskanen didn’t take part in the morning skate and is all but certain to miss a third consecutive game.
One change: Deryk Engelland, usually on the right side when he is paired with Niskanen, will be on the left side with Lovejoy playing the right side.
The only other defenseman in uniform is rookie Brian Strait, who was a minus-two in the final two regular season games.