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Flyers-Penguins: Inside the Rivalry

It’s one of the NHL’s most storied rivalries.  Often referred to as “The Battle of Pennsylvania,” the rivalry between the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins has been going on since the 1967 NHL expansion.  Both teams were added to the league and it was the beginning of what would be a heated rivalry for many years to come.

The first regular season game between these two teams dates back to October of 1967.  It was the Flyers’ first home game and it was played at the Spectrum.  Bill Sutherland scored the only goal and the Flyers won, 1-0.  It wasn’t as intense as the games these teams would face in future years, but it was still just the beginning.

For years after, the Penguins stood no match against the Flyers.  The Broad Street Bullies won back-to-back cups in the 70s and beat the Penguins 42 times in a row at the Spectrum.  The addition of Mario Lemieux to the Penguins changed that.  

Lemieux became the face of the Penguins franchise and the team started to gain respect from other organizations in the league.  For the first time in 1989, the Flyers and Penguins met in the playoffs, and that was what really kick-started the rivalry.  Super Mario registered eight points in Game five, but could produce just one goal in Game seven, when the Flyers won 4-1.

The next five seasons weren’t great for Philly and Pittsburgh grew stronger and stronger.  It was almost the opposite of 1974 and ‘75.  The Pens’ won back-to-back cups in 1991 and 1992, while the Flyers were missing the playoffs.

To match Lemieux and the powerhouse Pens that were backed by superstar Jaromir Jagr, the Flyers traded for Eric Lindros.  The addition of Lindros would arguably give the Flyers an equal amount of skill as the Penguins had.

The debate as to who was the best - Lindros, Lemieux, or Jagr - would go on for a few years and was just another chapter in the epic story between the Flyers and Penguins.  

1995-96 GP Goals Assists Points
Lemieux 70 69 92 161
Jagr 82 62 87 149
Lindros 73 47 68 115

In the 1994-95 season, Lindros and Jagr tied for points but the Art Ross Trophy was awarded to Jagr for scoring more goals.  That same season, Lindros was the Hart Memorial Trophy winner for league MVP. The next year, he was runner-up to Mario Lemieux.  The following season, the teams met again in the playoffs, this time the Flyers winning in five games.

They would meet one more time in the playoffs during this legendary era.  It was the Eastern Conference Semifinals, and history was made in Pittsburgh.  Game four was one of the most well-known moments in hockey. It was also one to be remembered by all Flyers fans - at least the ones who were awake.

A 1-1 tie after 60 minutes meant overtime, but no one would have guessed the playing time would be almost tripled.  The game stretched to five overtime periods and 92 minutes into it, Keith Primeau fired a wrist shot past Ron Tugnutt and won it for the Flyers, 2-1.

The rivalry wouldn’t be big again until 2005 as the Penguins faced some struggles. Sidney Crosby was drafted by the Penguins in 2005 and was deemed “The Next One,” a name belonging to no other than the Flyers’ Eric Lindros.  

In his first season, he was in several altercations with players like Derian Hatcher and Peter Forsberg.  Flyers fans called him a ‘whiner’ and ‘diver’ because of the way he played.  Nonetheless, he was still an exceptional player and often dominated the Flyers.  He is just one of the many reasons these two teams and fanbases have a hatred for one another.

The next season, the Penguins won all eight of the team’s meetings, and the Flyers were dead-last in the league.  The 2007-08 season had a different outlook though as the Flyers won five out of eight regular season games vs the Penguins.  The Penguins easily defeated the Flyers in the Eastern Conference Finals, 4-1.
For the fifth time in history, the teams would meet again in the playoffs in 2009.  This was in the first round, and the Penguins had a 3-2 lead heading into Game 6 of the series.  The Flyers had a 3-0 lead in the game, but momentum quickly changed when Dan Carcillo dropped the gloves with Max Talbot.  

Carcillo came out of it with a decisive win and the Flyers fans went wild, but Talbot was hyped up too.  He gestured a “Shhhh” to the Philly crowd and got his teammates going.  The Penguins scored five unanswered goals and then went on to win the Stanley Cup later in the playoffs.

The 2010-11 season was a big one between the Flyers and Penguins.  The Flyers made themselves at home in the Penguins brand new arena, winning the very first NHL game there and winning the rest of them.  Rookie goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky was undefeated in that building, while Danny Briere scored the first goal there.

The offseason leading up to the 2011-12 season helped add gasoline to the fire of the rivalry.  On the first day of free agency, the Flyers signed Penguins legend Jaromir Jagr.  They didn’t stop there.  They also signed Max Talbot to a five-year deal. The season following these signings would have a lot of hatred and blood between the teams, but not just on the ice.

On April 1, 2012, the Penguins and Flyers faced off at the Consol Energy Center and to acall it intense would be an understatement.  With less than two minutes remaining, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma put out his fourth line. Pens skater Joe Vitale delivered a crushing legal hit to Daniel Briere and a line brawl ensued.  

Peter Laviolette called Bylsma’s move gutless, which would explain why he smashed a stick over the glass and stood on the dasher board yelling at him.  Both Laviolette and the Penguins’ assistant coach Tony Granato were fined, and the brutal game was just a preview to the playoffs.

And here we are.  The Penguins and Flyers will continue their storied rivalry, starting Wednesday in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  It is the most hyped playoff series and it will most likely be, as Scott Hartnell described it, a “bloodbath.”  Just another Penguins-Flyers matchup to go down in the books...

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George Prax's picture

This is an excellent post Conor. I'm antsy just waiting for this series to start.