A Pittsburgh Penguins versus Philadelphia Flyers game is always a heated contest, and playing such games in March elevates the intensity even more.
But throw in the fact that the Penguins are just five points behind the Flyers for first place in the Eastern Conference, and the two teams have now reached a new level of rivalry that could only be surpassed by a Penguins-Flyers playoff matchup.
“It’s a big game – a four-point swing,” center Jordan Staal
said. “It’s another big challenge for our team to see where we’re at. We want to come out with a strong effort.”
The Penguins locker room is always buzzing before a matchup against their intrastate rivals, but there was even more excitement on Wednesday since the players know they have a chance to make up some ground on the Flyers.
Both teams have been playing some exceptional hockey, with the Penguins earning points in eight of their last 10 games, while the Flyers have nabbed at least a point in seven of 10. But the Penguins have found it difficult to make up any ground against Philadelphia since there are so many overtime and shootout games at this point in the season.
Four of the Flyers’ last five games have extended past regulation, but on Thursday night, the Penguins can finally have a say about whether the Flyers earn points in the standings.
“We've got a very good team in Philly here,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “And winning that game puts us in a position where we think we can get them.”
“We need all the points we can get if we want to move up, so it’s a good game for that,” goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury
But Fleury also said that the Penguins don’t really need any extra motivation against the Flyers.
“It doesn’t matter when it is,” Fleury said. “In the beginning of the season or the end, it’s always intense.”
Forward Arron Asham
, who just returned to the Penguins lineup after missing nearly two months with a concussion, has played on both sides of the turnpike. He knows how tough a game against the Flyers can be.
“They’ve got a lot of talent over there and a lot of grit,” Asham said. “They have everything. They’re a good team and they’ve proved it this year. We’re going to go in there and play hard and hopefully come away two points.”
The Penguins got a good look at the Flyers on Tuesday night, as Philadelphia took on the Washington Capitals in a nationally-televised game between the two teams fighting for the top spot in the east. The Flyers came back from a three-goal deficit, but lost in a shootout, 5-4.
“It was a pretty exciting game, and it was obviously back and forth,” Staal said. “I thought it was pretty exciting hockey to watch. We’re excited about the challenge we have against Philly.”
But one player who hasn’t been on either side of this bitter rivalry is forward James Neal
, who is ready for the chance to make an impact in his Penguins-Flyers debut.
“I’ve watched the Penguins and Flyers play, and I know it’s a good rivalry,” Neal said. “It’s always a great game, so I’m excited for tomorrow.”
Certainly, every member of the Penguins has a reason to be excited for Thursday night’s brawl on Broad Street.
“It’s a big four-point swing, and it’s something that we’re not going to take lightly,” Staal said. “We want to come out with our best effort.”