PITTSBURGH -- The intensity of the rivalry between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers has grown during each team's 50 years, and could reach another level when they play in the 2017 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series at Heinz Field on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVA Sports 2, NHL.TV).
Hockey Hall of Fame members Paul Coffey and Eric Lindros discussed their experiences with the rivalry during the Coors Light Beer Summit at SoHo Bar and Restaurant on Saturday.
Coffey, a defenseman, experienced the rivalry from both sides. He played for the Penguins from 1987-88 until 1991-92, and with the Flyers in 1996-97 and 1997-98.
"The Flyers fans are pretty unique," Coffey said. "The Flyers fans are great, they love their home team. They're quick to let the home team know, or the visiting team know, where they stand. And you've got to respect them for that. Pittsburgh loves their sports, loves their Penguins, loves their Steelers, loves their Pirates. And they're very, very supportive."
When Coffey got to Pittsburgh during the 1987-88 season, the Penguins had been winless in 39 straight games in Philadelphia (36 losses, three ties) dating to Jan. 20, 1974. That streak would reach 42 games before the Penguins won 5-3 at the Spectrum on Feb. 2, 1989.
"For us it was like we won the Stanley Cup," Coffey said. "We can finally come back to Pittsburgh with some pride. But kudos to the Flyers, it was a tough place to play."
Lindros, a center who played for the Flyers for eight seasons (1992-2000), said the most memorable moment in the rivalry for him occurred at the Spectrum on March 2, 1993, when Penguins captain Mario Lemieux played his first game after treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma. Lemieux had a goal and an assist in Pittsburgh's 5-4 loss.
"The Flyers fans gave him huge ovation," Lindros said. "Our fans at times are not the easiest. They not only got on their feet but they got on their feet for a long time. They appreciate a great player and that's Mario."
Lindros and Coffey were teammates during the Flyers' run to the 1997 Stanley Cup Final, including a five-game defeat of Lemieux and the Penguins in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
That was one of six times the teams have played in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, most recently in the 2012 conference quarterfinals, which Philadelphia won in six games. Now they'll take the rivalry outside, giving it a whole new look.
The two points at stake are vital to the Flyers, who are five points behind the New York Islanders for the second wild card out into the playoffs out of the Eastern Conference. But the Penguins also need the points; entering play Saturday, they were in second place in the Metropolitan Division with a two-point lead on the New York Rangers.
"This is going to be a really tough game for the Flyers because they're struggling mightily to score goals, where the Penguins are clicking," said NBC Sports analyst Jeremy Roenick, who hosted the event and played for the Flyers from 2001-04. "[The Penguins] have a little problem on the defense with injuries but they're deep enough to sustain it. … Pittsburgh is the better team, they'll be motivated from of 60,000 fans, most of them theirs. But I do think if the Flyers can find a way to win this game … this is a springboard game for them.
"If they find the right wave, it could run them right into the playoffs."