Mears gives you the scoop on this morning's action. As always, he delivers the goods as a true professional. --Sam Kasan
Sounds heard in enemy territory...Jaromir JagrOn the build up to this series and how ready he is to start:At my age, I’m just happy to be here in the playoffs.
I’m happy to play. Getting ready for this, I think it’s going to be an exciting series for the players and also for the fans.On if it’s still different playing the Penguins in the playoffs:
Well, the playoffs are the playoffs. Every little mistake, every good play can change a whole series around. I would say it’s kind of the same no matter who you play against. You have to play hard; you have to be ready. It’s more intense than the regular season. Plus we’re going to face a great hockey club, maybe one of the best.On starting a Twitter: I was bored.On if he’s gotten any responses from Pittsburgh fans:
(Laughs) I didn’t go there yet. I’ve got to wait until after the playoffs. On if it’s good to see old teammates from the ‘90s in this building:
Oh, of course. It’s been 20 years, but I have such great memories. I have a lot of teammates where we won together. Those guys, they showed me around. They showed me the life off the ice. They taught me on the ice. Of course you have to appreciate it. I haven’t seen Phil Bourque a lot this year. I would like to see him. He was a guy who showed me around. Jay (Caufield) was here. Joe (Mullen) is on our team. Ulfie Samuelsson was on our team, Bob Errey – all the guys who played on that team are still around hockey and you see them every day. On the reception he expects from the crowd: It doesn’t really matter to me at this point. Max TalbotOn being back in Pittsburgh for the playoffs:
It’s exciting. I take it as a challenge and I’m very excited for tonight. On if he has anything ready for Fleury:
No, not really. I’m going to try to score some goals and create some chances. That’s all I’m going to do. On if the emotions of being here have faded away:
(It helped having) the chance to have two other games after the Dec. 29 tribute, which was pretty special. It was really classy from the organization
. It was great, but now it’s playoff time and all through the year, you do everything you can to do your best to help your team win. On if anything from the regular season will carry over:
I think the emotion is always going to be there no matter what happened or not during the season. It’s still a big rivalry and it’s still a first-round matchup, still the Battle of Pennsylvania. I don’t think you need things like what happened in the last games to bring some emotion in that playoff series. On if it’s different going against his old teammates:
No. It’s a playoff series. It’s obviously emotional no matter what team you’re going to play. I think the emotion and all the things that happened this year, you kind of move forward and you’ll do everything you can to play your best and win. On how many times he’s been reminded of his fight with Carcillo and the “shh” gesture:
Not too many times (smiles). Maybe the start of the year and stuff like that. --Michelle Creciholo
The Flyers' official Twitter handle (@NHLFlyers) announced that Danny Briere and Nicklas Grossmann will play tonight.
(Getty Images)--Sam Kasan
Coachspeak with Peter Laviolette…On the hype of the series:
You’re talking about a couple of teams steeped in tradition. The last couple months of the regular season played into it. It leads up to be a good playoffs series. Both organizations have had strong years. You’re in a first round matchup. That puts a little more hype into the series itself. On his young players debuting in the playoffs:
Our younger players have been used and utilized in every situation imaginable to this point. They got the opportunity to be a part of HBO, part of the Winter Classic. Never once has there been a lack of confidence from our organization or staff or teammates with their ability to play the game and contribute to our success. They are contributing factors. For me this isn’t rolling the dice and hoping they make it through. We need them to do their job, the job they’ve done all year. They’ve done it so well. It was their first opportunity for the regular season, first opportunity for the Winter Classic or HBO. This is their first opportunity in the playoffs. They leave us no reason to believe that life would be any different than it was yesterday. They’re a terrific group and we count on them for our success.On if his opinion of the Vitale hit on Briere has changed:I’ll stay away from that. I don’t think it’s relevant to tonight’s game. That’s old news
.On how much a difference Briere makes if he plays:
When Danny returns to the lineup for us he is a difference maker. His career path, not only in the regular season but in the playoffs, he shows what an effective player he can be. The bigger the circumstances, the bigger the performance. Since I’ve been here, that’s my take on Danny. Give him something to thrive in and he thrives. On how Jagr adjusted to the NHL:
You’re talking about a world-class player, someone who’s been in all situations before and had an enormous amount of success wherever he goes and whatever team he plays for. I think he did a tremendous job coming in here, not only playing on the ice and his production and helping the Giroux line be successful, but the steadying influence for our young players, positive attitude every day. His contributions this year are more than just on the ice. --Sam Kasan
Flyers pics... --Sam Kasan
Sounds heard around the locker room...Sidney CrosbyOn how excited he is to get back into the postseason tonight:
It feels good. I don’t think it feels too much different then it typically would. It feels good. Everyone works hard to get to this point. I’m excited, but I don’t think it feels any different than usual. On if there is extra motivation:
I think that for anybody, whether you’ve been in (the playoffs) previously, it’s always an opportunity and you have to make the most of it. For (Evgeni Malkin
and I), maybe a little bit more hunger just because we missed the previous playoffs, but it’s never an automatic thing. As much as you like being there, we’re playing on a good team here in Pittsburgh. It’s not automatic. You definitely have to make the most of every opportunity. On if the commentary on him will give him motivation:I don’t really need any extra motivation, to be honest with you
. It’s not anything that really changes the way I approach a game or anything like that. Those are tactics that I’ve seen for a long time before I got to the NHL, so some things never change and that’s one of them. I don’t think that changes my mindset at all. But if there is ever any extra incentive, you try to make the most of the opportunities. On the war of words:
I don’t know. A lot of times you forget about that stuff. That’s there in every playoff series. Maybe not to this extent, but nobody really remembers what’s said. Everyone always remembers who wins the series
. I think both teams are more focused on that. All that stuff doesn’t really matter once you get on the ice. I don’t remember, but I don’t think you usually remember anyway. It doesn’t really make a difference. Marc-Andre Fleury On what stands out about the Flyers:
They have a lot of skill up front. They are very dangerous in their zone and they have a good power play also. I think we have to be disciplined throughout this series. On what changes in the postseason:There are more media guys in the room this morning
. Other than that, so far it’s been just a regular routine, whatever we’ve been doing in the regular season. On being the two highest scoring teams:
Usually games are played a little more tight defensively. It helps the goalies out a little bit. But still you have to think on both sides there is a lot of skill, a lot of talent up front. It should still be interesting. On if any other series would have this much of a build up:
Probably not. For a long time we’ve always had a good rivalry with (the Flyers). Every time we play them it’s pretty intense and pretty physical. Everybody’s looking forward to getting this one started
. Brooks Orpik On if Sidney Crosby has extra motivation after all of the commentary:
Yeah it’s tough for (Sidney Crosby
) not to get any more motivated when it comes to hockey than he already naturally is. Both (Crosby and Evgeni Malkin
), when people question those guys I think it just kind of fuels those guys first. Hopefully that’s a good thing that he uses to his advantage. Like I said, both those guys are probably as motivated as you find in the league. On if there is more hatred with the Flyers:
No, not necessarily against the Flyers. A lot of people make this out to be a huge hatred. I think it’s that way with any team you play that stands in the way of what you want to achieve, there is going to be some animosity there.
It’s a team you just have to play physical. That’s the true toughness, if you can skate away from that stuff. At this time of year no one has to prove how tough they are. On young guys who haven’t had the playoff experience before:
Just have fun and be excited. Obviously with the crowd, the energy level here is going to be sky high. The biggest thing is just try and control that energy and be patient, especially the physical side of things. If you go looking for it that’s usually where it’s a little easier to get caught up in taking penalties. Everyone is going to be emotional and energized. You just have to try and control that and be patient. --Brittany Goncar
Coachspeak with Dan Bylsma…On beating the Flyers at home:
I knew the Penguins would beat the Flyers at CONSOL Energy Center eventually. Whether it happened in the opening game last season or whenever, it was going to happen. The Flyers are a good team. They’ve had success here. It’s not because of the rodents in the old building and there being none in this building. It’s not that. They beat us here. In the last one we beat them. Those are storylines you can talk about. They might be talked about afterwards as well. But this is Game 1 and it’s two good teams. Some of the history plays into this game because there is familiarity. I still wouldn’t have felt different if we didn’t win that game at the end of the season. On the hype of the series:
The media and attention to this matchup, rivalry and series, the only time where I’ve been in a series other than the Final that is this big would have been against Washington in ’09 in the second round
. When you talk to people around the league, they’re talking about two really good teams. Some people say this is a conference final in the first round. It’s a Final in the first round. There’s lots of talk and hype. It’s two very good teams with very good seasons, won a lot of hockey games. Both teams consider themselves in the top of the league in terms of quality of team. It showed in the regular season and their records. This matchup is in the first round and it’s cross-state rivals. It’s Flyers vs. Penguins. You’re getting a lot of that hype as well in the build up in addition to the fact that it’s two really good teams that both consider themselves to be an elite team in the league
. On the name calling between the two teams:
I’m surprised you’re talking about name calling in the last two weeks because Sidney Crosby
and Evgeni Malkin
have been called names for a long time in this rivalry and against this team. It’s not a new thing. It’s not something that came out of the woodwork and it’s the first time names have been used. Most of the nicknames for Sidney Crosby have originated out of Philly and their fans. It’s not anything new. Frankly, the start of the series makes it go away. It’s about playing hockey now. Name calling fades
. On keeping Strait in the NHL instead of Despres:
Simon showed early in the middle section of the season how he can play in many different situations, against top lines. He handles the puck and has offensive instinct to his game. Brian has been very good both here and in Wilkes-Barre aggressively defending. He’s been consistent in that aspect of his game. The last couple weeks here have been a big thing for Brian Strait
. He’s gone over the boards as a solid, consistent defender against anybody skating-wise and physicality-wise. He’s done a real consistent job doing that. That’s why Brian Strait
stayed with us and is here with us right now. Simon is a really good player and will have a long NHL career and has a higher upside. But the consistent defending of Brian Strait
has been a real factor for him and our team. That’s why he’s here. On the coaching matchup with Peter Laviolette:
I was watching the Rangers play Philadelphia the last couple days. In viewing some tapes I heard a comment by the commentator about the two American coaches with the most success in the National Hockey League in Tortorella and Laviolette. I think they’re 1 and 2 in wins. They both have Stanley Cups. I listened to that last night. (Laviolette) has won a lot of hockey games. He’s been with different teams and won hockey games. He’s had success. Clearly showed he is a really good coach in this league. He’s won a Stanley Cup. Coming into Philly they’ve had good hockey teams for a number of years and I think Peter was a big difference when he came in. He took them to the Final and showed they’re a very good team. They play a consistent game. I think their team has a real identity, which isn’t the old Flyers identity, but a real good identity. This team in particular, they talk about Giroux and Jagr. Their power play has been a factor, but this is a team that does it throughout their lineup. They keep coming at you and play well throughout their lineup. They’ve dealt with injuries. They’ve done a very good job. I was disappointed not being mentioned in the commentators' comments about American coaches. That’s part of the game. He’s going to have matchups that he goes after and these things are important for his team. You’ll see their team go after those. He’s also a coach that does a good job of adjusting his team and their mindset, whether in game or game to game. That stuff will play out on the ice. I have a lot of respect for Peter as a coach for what he’s done regardless of the name calling
. --Sam Kasan
Pens blueliner Ben Lovejoy
, who missed the last six regular-season games due to knee surgery, says he feels good and that a decision will be made later between himself, the doctors and the coaches as to whether or not he will play in Game 1. On his status for the game:I’m feeling really good. I don’t know if I’m going to be in tonight or not.
That’s something we talk about before and after every practice. There will be a discussion between myself and Dan (Bylsma), the doctors and the trainers. I feel great right now and hopefully will feel the same way at 5:30 tonight
. On how the decision is made on if he’ll play:
It depends on the situation. Right now we’ll all talk together and figure out the best decision. I’ve had three great days of practice. Every time I’m on the ice it feels better and better. On being ahead of schedule:
Before the surgery I thought it would be longer. After how I felt right away I thought I could get close pretty quickly. The doctors and trainers have both been happy with how things have gone. This was our timetable after it happened. I’m excited to hopefully go. On returning to playoff action:
This is awesome. It’s not only the postseason, but the Flyers. We’ve battled with them all year and certainly the last week. This is awesome. You can’t get more excited for a series than this team is. We’re ready to go. We’re excited. The fans are excited. The entire NHL is excited for this series. The guys can’t wait. (Interview added at 11:51 AM) --Sam Kasan
Vitale airs out the gloves (left); The captain ready to lead the troops into battle (right)
Tom Fitzgerald and Staal share a laugh and smile (left); Fleury protects the post (right)
Team gathering (left); Kunitz with the stare down (right) --Sam Kasan
Michelle has covered all the top storylines for this series
. But there are a few stories that are flying under the radar, like the fact that Engelland and Vitale will be making their postseason debuts and the impact those two physical, aggressive players will have against the Flyers. Full story here.
(Getty Images)--Sam Kasan
The only Pens player missing from the morning skate is defenseman Matt Niskanen
, who continues to recovery from an upper-body injury.
The team used the following line rushes...
(Jeffrey, Tangradi, Park)
The seven defensemen rotated with each other. --Sam Kasan
Pens are hitting the ice for their morning skate. --Sam Kasan
What’s there to say when it’s all been said?
For over a week the Penguins and Flyers were setting up for a first round showdown in the Stanley Cup playoffs. In 10 hours the postseason will officially begin with one of the NHL’s greatest rivalries.
Pens defenseman Kris Letang
summarized best the feelings on both sides of the keystone state: “These are two teams that hate each other.”
I can’t think of any better way to open the postseason than Pens-Flyers.
When you take that genuine hatred, throw in the intensity when these two teams get together, add the history of the cross-state rivalry and toss in the high stakes of playoff survival, you get the greatest atmosphere of hockey in the world. The only thing better than the Stanley Cup playoffs is the Stanley Cup playoffs against a despised foe.
The players have done all the preparation they can do. Every angle of this series has been covered extensively by the media. Everyone knows what to expect from these two teams. There’s nothing left to say.
The time for talk is over. The time has come to play the game. Drop the puck.
In a few short hours the Pens and Flyers will officially begin their quest for the Stanley Cup. It begins tonight at CONSOL Energy Center.
I’ll open the playoffs with BR’s “The Empire Strikes First.” It’s a fitting song as both teams try to strike first in the series in what is sure to be a bitter and heated battle with everything on the line.
“Here we go again to stage the greatest show of heaven and earth. Come on get your money’s worth…”
Enjoy. As Meesh would say (and has said many, many, many times aready this morning), “happy game day.” ---Sam Kasan