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Penguins-Flyers rivalry will heat up Stadium Series, Recchi says

Pittsburgh assistant coach is top 10 in points all-time for each team

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / NHL.com Staff Writer

PITTSBURGH -- Mark Recchi is ninth in Philadelphia Flyers history with 627 points (232 goals, 395 assists) in 602 games. During two stints in orange and black (1992-94, 1998-2004), he became a fan favorite while playing with the likes of Eric Lindros, John LeClair, Ron Hextall and Eric Desjardins.

None of his numbers, exploits or highlight-reel moments for Philadelphia will matter to the estimated capacity crowd of about 70,000 when the Flyers host the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2019 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series at Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, SN360, SN1, TVAS2).

Recchi is the enemy now. He's in his second season as an assistant to coach Mike Sullivan for the Penguins. Past achievements with the Flyers, however impressive they may be, will be forgotten when he walks out behind the Pittsburgh bench in Penguins black and gold.

 

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"I wouldn't have it any other way," Recchi said Wednesday, breaking into a chuckle. "That's what this rivalry is all about.

"If you are on either of these teams and you don't get up for a Penguins-Flyers game, there is something wrong with you."

If anyone knows how deep the ill will runs between the two Pennsylvania teams and their fan bases, it's him.

Recchi is the only player to rank in the top 10 in scoring for each team. He's 10th in Penguins history with 385 points (154 goals, 231 assists) in 389 games during three stints with Pittsburgh (1988-92, 2005-06, 2006-07).

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He won three Stanley Cup rings with the Penguins: as a player in 1991 and as a development coach in 2016 and 2017. He hoisted the Cup with Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr 28 years ago, then went on to be teammates with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in his second and third stints.

"I had the fortune of playing with a lot of special players on both teams," Recchi said. "Teammates change over the years, but one thing hasn't -- the rivalry. It's always heated."

Recchi, selected by the Penguins in the fourth round (No. 67) of the 1988 NHL Draft, learned that firsthand during his rookie season.

Recchi had just been called up from Muskegon of the American Hockey League when the Penguins played at the Flyers on Feb. 2, 1989. Pittsburgh stepped onto the ice that night on a 42-game winless streak (0-39-3) at the Spectrum dating to Feb. 7, 1974.

"I didn't dress that night, I was actually in the stands," Recchi said. "You could really feel the rivalry. It was huge. It was 1989, and you could sense it then.

"It was my first year pro. Everything opened my eyes, and that was one of them. It was pretty neat to see it, be around it."

The Penguins won the game 5-3, ending their 15-year streak of futility in Philadelphia.

"I remember the excitement after the game," Recchi said. "It was the first time they'd won there in so long. You could feel what it meant.

"And then you start playing in it, and it's huge. Having played on both sides, you can feel it. It's fun. And it's intense on both sides."

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Buoyed by the confidence of finally winning in Philadelphia, the Penguins started bringing more bite to the rivalry.

"And then Pittsburgh starts winning Stanley Cups, 1991, 1992, and had a lot of success," Recchi said. "But even when the teams aren't that great, there is something about that rivalry that builds up between the two teams."

Recchi watched over the years as stars like Lemieux received the cold shoulder in Philadelphia and Lindros was constantly booed in Pittsburgh. The fact that Crosby has become an object for jeering by Flyers fans simply means he is following in line of the elite players before him in the rivalry.

During the 2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, the back page of the Philadelphia Daily News had Crosby's head on the body of the Cowardly Lion from "The Wizard of Oz," accompanied by the headline "The Cowardly Penguin." Prior to Game 3 of the 2018 Eastern Conference First Round, photos of Crosby were put in the bottom of urinals at Wells Fargo Center.

Recchi said it's all part of the fabric that is Pittsburgh vs. Philadelphia.

"I'm not surprised at things like that, not at all," Recchi said. "These are two very passionate sports cities. I'm not sure Penguins (fans) would do something like that, but it's all in fun. Sid thought it was pretty funny. It's part of a special rivalry that's taken a life of its own.

"As for Sid, the team being successful, winning some Cups, it irks them even more. I think it drives people there more crazy. I mean, Philly's had some great teams too. They've got a good team now. I'm sure they'll boo him every time he touches the puck, especially early on.

"This is going to be a fun game, a fun experience, though it's a different environment. It'll be outside, there will be 70,000 fans, I'm sure it will be crazy. It'll be an enjoyable fun thing to be around."

Loud too.

"Yep, noisy," he said with a laugh. "And not in our favor."

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