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Greenberg: Behind the heated Flyers-Pens rivalry

by Jay Greenberg / Philadelphia Flyers

Even longer than their faces will be summer for the Flyers, knowing that if they had started more games with as much hatred of losing as they have hatred for the Penguins, the Wells Fargo Center would have playoffs as usual.

That said, conditioning season is still three games away. So, in this rare Flyer season that finds them playing out the string, it’s great fun to be able to loop it around the geeky Penguins’ pencil necks and pull.

Misery loves company. So with the Penguins, winners of only three of their last 12 contests, still not qualified to look down their bumpy noses at the Flyers’ plight, what better way to spend Easter Sunday than beating Pittsburgh again, unless it would be to beat them again and again and again.

“There were a few guys after the {Flyers’ 4-1 win in Pittsburgh Wednesday night] kind of chirping, ‘[you’re] going to be done in a week’,” said Ryan White. “Of course we are but they had a couple of stumbles this week and it was nice to put another nail in their coffins.”


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White is a new guy around here, so imagine how other Flyers feel. Then again, since these teams last played in the playoffs in 2012 fourteen Flyers are new guys around here, so they have learned fast.

Bob Clarke remembers that when he came to the Flyers in Year Three, the puny little expansion team already hated the haughty, established Rangers. So these rivalries are not just built on crosschecks in the back and bitter playoff defeats, but perception, too.

Most of all, though, they have to do with personalities. The three least energetic games the Flyers played this year probably were against the Rangers, the team that put Philadelphia out of the playoffs last spring. Granted all three contests took place during a November funk in which the Flyers were going 1-8-2. But wouldn’t you think the sight of Blueshirts would be rousing?

Nobody who played for the Flyers between 1979 and 1987, when the teams met seven times in the post-season -- the Ranger guerillas, picking off better Philadelphia teams in four of them -- is going to like hearing this: Craig Berube suggests the Rangers have become such gentlemen, the Flyers have a harder time working up a good, healthy, hate for them.

“I just think they play a different style, more of a skating team,” said the coach. “Pittsburgh, the physicality gets up there and (Sidney) Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin brings out some intensity in us.”

That’s not only because they are two of the four best players in the league, but because, well, because they are Crosby and Malkin. Derian Hatcher didn’t like that Crosby guy the first time he saw him, knocked out his teeth, and defeats in 2008 and 2009 playoffs didn’t give self-respecting Flyer fan reason to change his/her mind.

As the Penguins crept back into the 2012 series with wins in Games Four and Five, Claude Giroux knew to cut off the head of the snake, leveling Crosby on the first shift right in front of a stunningly-mute Penguin bench. They never were in that game and haven’t been able to solve the Flyers very often since. Philadelphia has won the last eight, which boggles the mind. Obviously, these Flyers have crawled into the Penguins’ minds and boggled them.

Derian Hatcher battles with Sidney Crosby.

At some point the Penguins, who lost to Flyers only once in 30 regular-season meetings in Pittsburgh during a stretch of the nineties, will fight back. Like Dan Carcillo lamentably at Max Talbot with the Flyers up 3-0 in Game Six in 2009, these things swing. After not meeting in a playoff round until the 22nd season of these two franchises lives, the clubs have taken long turns torturing each other.

The Penguins didn’t beat the Flyers in 42 trips to the Spectrum between 1974 and 1989, but then, not in one of those years did Pittsburgh finish ahead of the Philadelphia in the standings. That’s a test of the law of averages, sure, but no clear violation of it. But we’re waiting for your explanation of the Flyers, who haven’t had more points than the Penguins in any season since Consol Energy Center opened in 2010, being 13-2-1 there, regular season and playoffs combined.

At Wells Fargo, it’s been more even, the Penguins winning five of the last 12, including Sunday’s 4-1 loss. Their margin for error in the playoff race almost gone, they made Steve Mason be brilliant, stopping 22 shots and three seemingly certain goals in the first period. He enabled the Flyers to get their legs, the best use of which remains kicking Penguin butt.

As the two teams made referee Paul Devorski, working his last game after 26 years, earn his retirement, you could feel Pittsburgh’s desperation and see its frustration. Chris Kunitz shot the puck after a touch-up on a delayed penalty, drawing an angry Flyer posse headed by Jake Voracek, never mind that Mason had vacated the net and nobody really was endangered.

Somehow we won’t think the Flyers would have been as hot, if, say, somebody from Buffalo did that. “They were doing everything they could to get under our skins,” said the oft-bumped Mason. “If anything, it just gets you more into the game.”

The mere sight of Crosby in the warmup gets the Flyers into the game. Now, what to do Saturday, if beating Ottawa helps Pittsburgh get in?

Man, that’s like the choice of making friends with Matt Cooke or Rob Brown. The only thing that Flyers currently like about the Penguins is that they might miss the playoffs, too.

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