Anyone who’s followed the Penguins and the Flyers this season – especially the last few weeks – watched the bad blood between these two teams spill over at times.
That’s nothing new for these two clubs situated on opposite sides of Pennsylvania, as it’s been happening over the last – oh, six decades – as they’ve had a special dislike for each other ever since they entered the NHL.
But while the Penguins have acknowledged over these past few days that there’s a hatred between them and their first-round opponent in this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, they won’t discuss it any further. They refuse to let their cross-state rival deter their focus from the task that lies ahead – gutting out four of seven wins to advance to the next round.
The players in Pittsburgh’s dressing room know they have all the requisite tools to win the Stanley Cup. When they’re at their best, it’s tough for other teams to match their enviable skill and depth. So in this series, it’s a matter of making sure they achieve the fine balance between being emotional and not letting their emotions get away from them against a team that thrives by creating scrums and post-whistle altercations.
“I think emotional control is going to be important,” defenseman Kris Letang
said. “It’s going to be loud in both buildings. It’s two teams that hate each other. I think it’s going to be fun to be a part of it.”
When pressed further about how difficult it is to maintain that emotional control, Letang responded, “It’s tough. They play hard. They finish their checks. Sometimes they’re going to be in your face and create scrums.
“It’s tough, but I think it’s the No. 1 key for success for us.”
It’s certainly not an easy balance to achieve when these games mean everything. Both teams have put in a staggering amount of effort, energy, sweat and exhaustion and dealt with emotional highs and lows and plenty of adversity over an 82-game season to earn the right to compete for hockey’s holy grail.
So yeah, it gets intense both on and off the ice. But the Penguins must find a way to use the postseason flavor to their advantage – and avoid being dragged down by it.
“I think that any team kind of wrestles with that balance,” captain Sidney Crosby
said. “You have to be intense, but you have to be focused. The good teams, the teams that are able to do that, end up winning. I think we are going to be tested in that way. Philly is going to be tested that way when there is so much emotion in this series.”
How do they walk that fine line?
Confidence in their game and knowing they must maintain an unflappable demeanor.
“Just stay confident with our play,” forward James Neal
said. “We can do a lot of great things out there and they can still turn around and score a couple goals on us. So stay disciplined, stay confident with the way we play. If we stay consistent with it, we’ll have a successful outcome. We just need to know what to do and stay with it.”
Defenseman Paul Martin
"For us, you try not to get too high or too low," he said. "You’ve just got to focus on the game, whether you’re up or down, and continue to try and do things right. You can’t really do too much more than that."