When the Penguins and Flyers skate on the same sheet of ice, one can usually expect to see some fireworks.
This time, though, the Penguins will settle for a few sparks here and there.
The battles between the two cross-state rivals are usually intense. That should be the case this time as the two meet in the Eastern Conference Finals. However, the Penguins hope to remain disciplined.
“It’s a big rivalry, but the regular season is always bigger. In the regular season, you mostly brawl and all that other stuff happens because you can afford to lose a game then since you’re playing 82 games,” Penguins winger Georges Laraque said. “In the playoffs, it’s totally different. There’s a reason why there is little fighting in the playoffs and teams are more disciplined.
“Playoffs, I think we approach it differently. If we win, we’re going to the Stanley Cup Finals. That’s the main goal we’re thinking about. Everybody looks at it as a battle for Pennsylvania and that’s great for the fans, but for us, look at what’s at stake – if we win, look where we’re going. Just that is enough. We’re so close to what we want to achieve and it’s far from over and it’s going to be really hard. It’s a big climb right now to get to where we want to be.
“Playoff hockey is different. It’s going to be hard-nosed physical hockey, but it’s going to be different because both teams will be disciplined because one game, especially the first game, could be really big in this series,” he continued. “The Flyers are a physical team, but we know what we have to do. To win in the playoffs, you have to be disciplined and playing against this team is no different than any other in the playoffs. Whoever is the most disciplined will win.”
Penguins winger Jarkko Ruutu agreed.
“It’s playoffs, so you treat it like any other team. It’s a big rivalry, but it doesn’t change the mindset or the focus we have to have. We just have to go game by game and focus on the next shift and play well,” he said. “I think the fans are most excited about this. For us, it’s just another team. It doesn’t change the mindset at all. Whoever we play against, it has to be the same focus and mentality.”
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby has tallied more points against Philadelphia (16+21 in 20 games) than any other team in his career. However, he knows that it will be a strong test to battle the Flyers, who won the season series against the Penguins, 5-3.
“Every playoff series is going to be intense and emotional. Obviously, there’s a rivalry there, but it doesn’t change the way we approach anything,” he said. “Whatever happened in the regular season is all out the window once playoffs roll around. Everyone is playing for keeps and I don’t think the regular season has much to do with it. You’re going to have to battle every series, no matter who you play.”
The Penguins have done a good job dispatching their first two playoff foes – sweeping the Senators and conquering the Rangers in five games.
“That doesn’t change anything. The first two series weren’t easy,” Crosby said. “We did a good job of keeping them short, but they weren’t easy. I expect this next series to be tougher.”
That’s why he agrees that discipline will be key as special teams can make all the difference in extending – and winning – a playoff series.
“That’s how you win in the playoffs. You can’t get caught up taking penalties. Teams really rely on their special teams – they are bringing them a long ways in the playoffs,” he said. “So, you’re going to get burned if you take a lot of penalties. They are a good hockey team with a lot of depth. Their defense is playing well and their goaltender is, too. They are a good team.”