April 1, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; The Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers fight against each other during the third period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Philadelphia Flyers won 6-4. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE
And really, it is. Assumedly, the majority of internet perusers stumbling upon this posting are well aware of the historical significance of this rivalry. Of just how badly these two teams and their respective fan bases tend to hate one another.
In terms of historical playoff results, call it a toss up. The Flyers own a 3-2 advantage, but the Penguins triumphed the last two times they met in the playoffs -- a Stanley Cup final appearance in 2008 and the ultimate triumph of 2009.
That 2009 Stanley Cup victory is the type of thing Penguins fans love to rub in the face of Flyers supporters as evidence of western Pennsylvania superiority in sports financially governed by a salary cap. Though the Flyers have historically been more successful, and hold a dominant 141-82-30 series advantage over the Penguins, they haven't won a Stanley Cup since going back-to-back in 1974 and 1975. The Penguins did the same in 1991 and 1992, but 2009 just put it over the top, "it" being the idea that the Flyers are jinxed and the Penguins are not. At least not in the 21st century.
But beyond the results, there are overt philosophical differences. The Broadstreet Bullies versus the high-flying Penguings. Physical supremacy versus offensive skill.
That's the legend and the feeling at heart at least, even if it doesn't match up with the reality of things.While the Flyers' 1318 penalty minutes led the NHL by a mile -- 173 more than Ottawa, who finished second, and 438 ahead of the Penguins, who lived up to Mario Lemieux's words and dropped down to 19th -- they don't own physical dominance over the Penguins anymore.
Pittsburgh is on the smallish and old size -- we're talking about the team now, not the city -- but physical, aggressive play has typified the team since head coach Dan Bylsma took over. The Penguins led the NHL in goals scored with 273, 13 ahead of the Flyers, who finished tied for second. But those Penguins goals aren't all the result of tic-tac-toe passing. Most of the time it's crashing the net, cashing in on rebounds, shooting prolifically, cycling the puck down low and forcing it in front.
The results are perfect, but they're just brought about in a different manner. Even with Evgeni Malkin slicing and dicing the competition to the tune of 50 goals, with linemate James Neal scoring 40, both career highs, the Penguins are now a north-south team.
Philadelphia still brings a physical, one could reasonably say agitating, style to its game, but it's also much more skillful than a typically imagined Flyers squad. Claude Giroux comfortably led the team in scoring and finished third in the NHL with 93 points, doing so while playing a skilled, clean game.
Similarly, Jaromir Jagr -- we'll get back to him in a second -- finished third on the Flyers with 54 points in 73 games, mainly while staying out of the box. Danny Briere, Kimmo Timonen, Jakub Voacek, Matt Read, James van Riemsdyk, etc. etc. play styles that are really hard to find fault with.
Adding to the intrigue of this match-up are the inclusions of Jagr and Maxime Talbot, each shunning black and Vegas gold in favor of orange and white. Both recieved firm contract offers to play in Pittsburgh this season and both, regardless of the reasonable circumstances, chose to ply their trade in Philadelphia. That's all that will matter to most Penguins fans.
Ex-Flyer Arron Asham is now a Penguin, but it's doubtful the Flyers faithful still take his exit as a sucker punch to the heart (if they ever did).
Both Jagr and Talbot have shown steely nerves in the regular season in Pittsburgh, with Jagr finally showing an ability to drown out the relentless boo birds flung from the rafters of any Pittsburgh arena. The playoffs, however, are a different animal. And the performance of two one-time Penguins playoff heroes could determine how far the Penguins go once again this year.