Better With Popcorn

Old rivalry introduced to new faces

For the Philadelphia Flyers and their fans, much of the 2011-12 season will be focused on the New York Rangers.

Because of this year’s Winter Classic matchup, players and fans should expect to be inundated with questions, information and banter about the hatred between the Broad Street Bullies and the Broadway Blueshirts.

However, there is still one rivalry that has been overshadowed thus far. That rivalry includes the team on the other side of the Keystone State, the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The rivalry is especially rabid between the fans of the two clubs.

Flyers fans have developed a cold place in their heart for their in-state rivals; one that is filled with disgust and disdain. Prior to the Sidney Crosby era, the Penguins were two steps away from leaving town. Following a revival through the draft, the team came back stronger than ever managing to appear in the Stanley Cup Finals in two consecutive seasons in addition to winning one it 2009.

For a fan base that has been starved for a third championship since 1975, it was heartbreaking to have Pittsburgh achieve the feat first. To add salt to an already sore wound, the Penguins defeated the Flyers on the way to both appearances.

The Flyers have historically been known as the league’s bad boys. Dating back to the era of Schultz and Van Impe, the Bullies persona has resonated throughout Flyers lore. The Penguins on the other hand have been associated with superstar tandems such as Lemieux and Jagr and now Crosby and Malkin.

Where the Flyers won through grit, the Penguins won through grace. While the Flyers are sometimes the league’s problem child, the Penguins are the golden boys.

It creates an environment filled with animosity every time the two teams meet.

In the team’s first meeting of the season on Thursday, several players on the roster had their first experience with the rivalry. They found out what Philadelphia-Pittsburgh is all about.

“It’s fun… Pittsburgh’s a good team,” Wayne Simmonds said. “Obviously we go out there and battle every shift and that’s the type of hockey I like to play and most guys on our team like to play the battles out there.”

For Max Talbot and Jaromir Jagr, two players who began their careers in Pittsburgh, Thursday night’s game was their first opportunity to experience the rivalry from the opposite side.

"Emotionally it was exciting,” Talbot said. “I took it as a challenge. It was two months before I had a chance to play the Penguins.”

Talbot and Jagr both won cups during their time in Pittsburgh. It was clear that the game was meaningful for them.

"[Jagr] was excited as well. He was excited to play the Penguins because he played there so long,” Talbot said. “He had some great moments down there. I can say in this dressing room, me and [Jaromir Jagr] identify as the old Penguins. I think it is extra special for us tonight to get a win.”

It was clear that the players in the locker room were aware how important the game was for the two former Penguins.

“Pittsburgh is on top of the standings,” Claude Giroux said. “We were pretty excited to play them, especially Max (Talbot) and Jags. It was good to get a win for them.”

While it was an added bonus that the team could win a special game for two of their teammates, the game also proved to be an important win for the entire club. With last night’s victory, the Flyers gained sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference.

For a club who reconstructed their entire roster during the offseason, its hard to believe that they have already found their way to the top of the mountain. Even without Crosby, Pittsburgh is expected to be the best team in the East and are heavy favorites to win the cup.

With last night’s win, the Flyers sent a message that they are not to be overlooked by their rivals from the western portion of the state.

With all of the bitterness between the two teams, one Flyers player is capable of looking at the game with a child-like innocence.

“Yeah well I am the new guy in Philly,” Ilya Bryzgalov said. “I’ve not yet felt all the past years of the rivalry. I’m the new guy from the West!”


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