After the Penguins soundly defeated the Philadelphia Flyers, 6-1, at Mellon Arena on Tuesday this home-and-home series shifts across the commonwealth to the Wachovia Center for a 7 p.m. faceoff on Thursday night. A win for the Penguins would extend the team’s success in an environment which once caused horrors for the franchise.
Since the beginning of the 2006-07 campaign the Penguins have posted a 10-7 record in Philadelphia, including the postseason. To put that mark in perspective the team won only 10 games (including the postseason) over a 14-year stretch from 1991-2006 and actually went 42 games (0-39-3) without a victory at the old Spectrum between 1974 and 1989.
Why have the Penguins been able to steal two points with more regularity in the City of Brotherly Love? Yes, a change in venue has helped exorcise the demons that used to accompany a plane ride to the opposite side of the state. But more importantly, the core of this young team is not intimidated by the Flyers’ fisticuffs nor their rowdy fan base.
“The first year I was a little surprised,” Evgeni Malkin
said. “Philadelphia plays hard and tough. Now I am ready for that.
“It’s Philadelphia and we play them a lot. Every game we have a couple of fights. We are ready to play in Philadelphia (Thursday).”
“I have become used to it,” Sidney Crosby
said. “That is what I expect when I go there. I don’t expect anything different. If it’s any quieter or any different, that is not really what I know. That’s what I expect when I go to Philly.
“Since the first game I have been there it has been like that.”
Ever since the Flyers won back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 1974 and ’75 with the “Broad Street Bullies,” Philadelphia’s management and their fans have this belief that borderline hits, post-whistle scrums and dropping the gloves is how you build a true championship contender.
As today’s Flyers continue to employ such tactics on the ice, especially when they throw their bright orange home sweaters over their shoulder pads, smart teams such as the Penguins match the Flyers’ physicality within the rule book and then beat them on the scoreboard thanks to a superior skill level.
“When you think of toughness you think of fighting,” Crosby said. “It’s more than that. It’s physical play, being in a team’s face and playing the right way – not stupid and being too aggressive – but playing a good game of hockey.
“That is the brand of hockey we want to play. We want to play a skilled game but be tough to play against.”
That was exactly the type of game the Penguins gave the Flyers at Mellon Arena on Tuesday. Four unanswered goals from the Penguins following Jordan Staal
’s shorthanded goal in the second period turned a 2-1 Penguins’ lead into a decisive victory. Philadelphia, however, was coming off a 3-1 win in Boston the night before, and Malkin thinks that might have contributed to the Penguins’ cause.
“They were playing back-to-back games on Tuesday so they were a little bit tired,” Malkin said. “Now they will have some rest and they will come back (Thursday) with a lot of emotion.
“We will have to be ready to play a little bit more in the defensive zone. We are ready for that.”
Crosby believes the Flyers are going to come out with nothing short of their best effort in the rematch because nobody enjoys getting so handedly at this level, especially when the team handing the whipping to you is your archrival.
“They are obviously not going to be happy with their last game,” Crosby said. “They are going to be back home and anytime you play a home-and-home, depending on how the first game goes, you expect to get a good response from the other team in the second game. We will expect to see them playing hard and playing a solid game.”
It’s common for the home team to throw a full-court press on their visitors during the opening 10 minutes of the game. Crosby wants to see his team match the Flyers’ intensity during Philadelphia’s early adrenaline rush and once they do that, mimic the game plan from Tuesday as best as they can.
“Our special teams were great,” Crosby said. “Five-on-five we did a great job of carrying the momentum. We really played our game. I think we just want to do the same thing.”
A Flyers’ killer himself, Malkin agreed with Crosby’s assessment.
“When you win 6-1 it’s definitely fun for us,” Malkin said. “We will be ready (Thursday) to try to play the same game.”