Penguins-Flyers rivalry has peaked in the past year
When the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins take the ice Thursday (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US), it will be the 12th time they've played in the past calendar year -- six regular-season games, and six highly memorable games in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Keystone State Clash has transformed into the most passionate rivalry in the NHL today, drawing attention of not just fans, but people throughout the hockey world.
Here are some highlights from those previous games, starting with the end of last regular season:
March 18, 2012 -- Hartnell down, Flyers up
The Penguins led 2-1 as the game entered the final five minutes of regulation when Scott Hartnell scored to tie it after Evgeni Malkin turned over the puck in the Penguins' zone. Then, as time was running down in overtime, Hartnell took a pass from Danny Briere and beat goalie Marc-Andre Fleury with 0.9 seconds left to give the Flyers a 3-2 win in Philadelphia.
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When the teams took the ice in Pittsburgh, it was almost a certainty they would be meeting again soon in the playoffs. With that backdrop, things got nasty. The Flyers were leading 6-3 with 1:02 remaining when the Penguins' Joe Vitale steamrolled Briere, sparking a near-riot on the ice and nearly another one on the benches. Flyers coach Peter Laviolette smashed a stick on the glass partition between the benches, then climbed on the ledge of the boards to scream at the Pittsburgh bench. Penguins assistant Tony Granato climbed the ledge of the boards to yell back. After order was restored on the ice, referees handed each coach a game misconduct.
April 1, 2012 -- Whatcha gonna do, Brother!
Cy Clark is best known as the Penguins fan who attends games dressed like Hulk Hogan. He wears the same stringy blonde hair, sunglasses and feathered boa Hogan wore late in his wrestling career, and taunts the visiting bench. After the Flyers were done beating the Penguins, Hartnell gave Clark a dose of his own medicine, throwing a few famous Hogan poses Clark's way. The Flyers also immortalized Hartnell's pose with a giveaway T-shirt for fans entering the Wells Fargo Center for Game 3 of the first-round playoff series.
April 11, 2012 -- Voracek wins it
The Penguins opened the first-round playoff series by taking a 3-0 first-period lead, but the Flyers slowly chipped away, tying the game on Brayden Schenn's goal in the third period. In overtime, Flyers defenseman Matt Carle threw a shot on net that Fleury stopped, but Jakub Voracek came in from the back door to knock in the rebound to give the Flyers a 4-3 win and a 1-0 series lead.
April 13, 2012 -- Fastest glove in the playoffs
The Flyers were down 2-0 in the first half of the first period of Game 2 and were down a man with Nicklas Grossmann off for hooking. The Penguins loaded up their top power play, with Kris Letang running things from the right point. The puck found its way to Sidney Crosby on the left side, but he spotted Letang creeping in through the back door and hit him with a perfect pass through the zone. Letang was staring at an open net when goalie Ilya Bryzgalov somehow pushed across the crease and gloved the shot, robbing Letang with the best save of the postseason.
Flyers rookie center Sean Couturier was gaining a reputation for his defensive skills blanketing Malkin. But in Game 2 of their playoff series Couturier broke out offensively, and the 18-year-old became the youngest player in League history to score a hat trick since Ted Kennedy in 1945. Not to be outdone, Flyers center Claude Giroux had a hat trick of his own, as well as three assists, as the Flyers won 8-5.
April 15, 2012 -- 'I don't like any guy on their team'
Frustrated by being down in the series, Crosby ignited a powder keg in Game 3. After Voracek lost his glove in a scrum, Crosby flicked it away with his stick as Voracek bent down to pick it up. A melee broke out with Crosby fighting Giroux, and the Flyers' Kimmo Timonen, who slashed Crosby after the glove incident, fought Letang. The Flyers won the game 8-4, and three Penguins were subsequently suspended: Arron Asham for a cross-check to the head of Schenn; James Neal for an elbow to the head of Couturier; and Craig Adams for picking up an instigator penalty in the final five minutes of the game. But it was Crosby who commanded the attention after the game. Asked why he knocked away Voracek's glove, Crosby replied, "Because I don't like them. … I don't like any guy on their team."
April 18, 2012 -- No Neal? No problem
Down 3-0 in the best-of-7 series, the Penguins entered Game 4 without Neal, who scored 40 goals in the regular season. However, Pittsburgh didn't need him as its other stars more than made up for his absence. Crosby had a goal and two assists, Malkin scored twice, and the first of three Jordan Staal goals snapped a 3-3 tie in the first period and sparked the Penguins on a 7-0 run to finish the game with a 10-3 victory.
April 22, 2012 -- 'Watch the first shift'
In baseball there's Babe Ruth's famed called shot in the 1932 World Series. While there's no video evidence of Ruth pointing to the fence before hitting a home run, there's ample proof of what Giroux did just before the puck dropped for Game 5. "About 10 seconds before the puck dropped," Briere said, "he came over and told me, 'Watch the first shift.'" Giroux beat Crosby on the opening faceoff, then after the puck was dumped into the Pittsburgh end, threw a crushing check on Crosby. Then Giroux intercepted a Steve Sullivan pass and scored 32 seconds into the game. The Flyers cruised to a series-closing 5-1 win.
Jan. 19, 2013 -- Fleury atones
Fleury was scorched in the previous spring's playoffs, but he made up for it on opening night in Philadelphia. He made 26 saves, including 11 during five Philadelphia power plays, and Pittsburgh skated out of Wells Fargo Center with a 3-1 victory. The win was No. 227 in Fleury's career, moving him past Tom Barrasso for the most victories in Penguins history.
Feb. 20, 2013 -- Full team defense
Any team knows you can't just rely on the goaltender to make saves. He needs help from his defensemen and backchecking forwards. The Penguins took that to a new level in this game against the Flyers. Philadelphia brought the puck into the Pittsburgh end, with Couturier putting the puck on net as he skated through the slot. Goalie Tomas Vokoun stopped it, but the rebound bounced off Mike Knuble and skidded toward the goal line. Letang jumped into the net to keep the puck out. That didn't work as Knuble nearly shoved it back in. By this point the four other Penguins tripped over themselves to dive into the crease, but none was able to cover or clear the puck. It finally rolled out to the slot, where Grossman somehow found room among all the bodies to score.
Feb. 20, 2013 -- 'A typical Flyers-Penguins game'
It looked like a playoff game broke out in the teams' second meeting this season. The Penguins took a 2-0 lead 7:15 into it and were outshooting the Flyers 12-2, but Philadelphia answered with two goals and outshot Pittsburgh 13-1 over the final 12:45 of the period. Voracek's goal with 9.9 seconds left in the second -- nearly a carbon copy of the overtime goal he scored in Game 1 of the playoff series -- put the Flyers up 3-2 after two periods. Then 18 seconds into the third, he put the Flyers ahead 4-2, scoring as Vokoun flopped out of the net and the Penguins couldn't stack enough bodies in the crease to replace him. The Penguins had a two-man advantage for 2:29, and 4:16 straight of power play, but scored once after the Flyers were whistled for three consecutive penalties midway through the third. Brandon Sutter's goal tied the game 5-5 with 2:03 left, but seconds later, Voracek capped his first NHL hat trick, absorbing a big hit from Brooks Orpik behind the Pittsburgh net, getting the puck back and banking it off Vokoun into the net with 1:31 left for a 6-5 win. After the game, Neal said, "That was just a typical Flyers-Penguins game."