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Developing a Healthy Hate

The rivalry between the Penguins and Flyers indisputably has become one of the best in sports. Defined by playoff series, geographic proximity, Slapshot-style line brawls, accusations of biting and hair pulling and, not least of all, top-notch performances from some of the best players in the NHL, Pitt-Philly is a must-watch event for hockey fans.

This was not always the case, however. For much of their history, the Pens, who entered the league during the same 1967 expansion as the Flyers, struggled against their cross-state rivals. While their counterparts at the opposite side of the state won back-to-back championships in 1974 and 1975, the Pens floundered between mediocrity and the bottom of the league. The arrival of Mario Lemieux in Pittsburgh eventually allowed the Penguins to be more competitive, but during the Penguins heyday in the early 90’s it was the Flyers who were trapped in the bottom half of the Eastern conference. The two teams were never elite franchises at the same time, and because of Eric Lindros’ concussion problems, an individual rivalry between him and Lemieux never really materialized. The three times the teams did meet in the post-season took place years apart and all went in Philadelphia’s favor.

The millennium brought major troubles for the bankrupt, basement-dwelling Penguins, while Philadelphia consistently made the playoffs. Not exactly a recipe for compelling or relevant games.

Then came Sid.

For as much as Flyers fans despise Sidney Crosby, credit No. 87 for the post-lockout rejuvenation of the Keystone State rivalry. During his first trip to Philadelphia, the then 18-year-old’s reaction to former Flyers’ defenseman Derian Hatcher knocking out his teeth cemented Philadelphia’s opinion of Crosby as a whiner, a diver and a poor sport. Unfortunately for Flyers fans, Crosby has since responded by notching 66 points in 40 career regular season games against Philadelphia.Associated Press

Hatred for Sidney Crosby isn’t the only variable at work, though. Three playoff series in five years allowed two teams from two very different parts of PA to become overly familiar with each other. It only added to the hatred when, after dispatching the Flyers from the playoffs in 2009, the Penguins went on to win the franchise’s third Stanley Cup.

With all of this history behind them, the rivalry came to a head during a thrilling yet bizarre six-game playoff series last April. The Pens unraveled in embarrassing fashion with the Flyers following suit against the New Jersey Devils less than two weeks later.

Needless to say, there is unfinished business on both sides.  While the Flyers and Penguins may not be destined for another playoff matchup in 2013—the two teams are on slightly different trajectories so far this year—the tension between them is unlikely to subside as they meet tonight for the second time this season. Below is a breakdown of some key events that have shaped this rivalry in the 21st century.

Recent Highlights:
Nov. 16, 2005
– A villain is born when Sidney Crosby’s unsportsmanlike reaction to Derian Hatcher performing on-ice dental work becomes the basis for an entire city’s opinion of him. After the incident, Crosby was quickly stitched up and later scored the game-winning goal in overtime.

2006-2007 – A year Flyers fans would like to forget included Pittsburgh sweeping the season series, eight games to none.

May 2008 – En route to a Stanley Cup Finals loss to Detroit, the Penguins steamrolled through the Eastern conference, losing only two games. They defeated the Flyers four games to one to become Eastern Conference Champions.

April 2009 – Philadelphia faithful wanted veUS Presswirengeance, but the Penguins bounced the Flyers out in the first round on their way to a Stanley Cup victory. While much was made of the lackluster play of Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, then-rookie Claude Giroux provided a silver lining, turning heads and garnering universal praise in his post-season debut.

2010-present – The Flyers own the Consol Energy Center. According to Scott Hartnell, playing at the Mellon Arena, that old, cramped, rat-infested building that is currently the site of a parking lot on Centre Avenue, was, like, really distracting. Whether or not the Pens cushy new digs are responsible for the Flyers recent success in Pittsburgh (5-1 since the Penguins switched buildings) is debatable, but Pittsburgh certainly does not have any home-ice advantage when it comes to Philadelphia.

July 2011 – During an off-season that was very kind to free agents, Max Talbot, a Pittsburgh fan favorite, and Jaromir Jagr, an enigmatic Czech with wild mood swings who also happens to be one of the best Penguins in franchise history, sign with Philadelphia. The Pens had no intention of keeping Talbot, and while fans hate seeing their Stanley Cup hero in black and orange, most Pittsburghers wish him well. Jagr, upon his return to Pittsburgh, brought the same off-ice drama (crazy remarks to reporters), and on-ice dominance (a big goal in a 4-2 Flyers win), that he trademarked while with the Penguins.

April 1, 2012 –Perhaps the best way to capture the absurdity of this game is to say that Scott Hartnell taunting a Hulk Hogan look-alike wasn’t even the most memorable part of it. Joe Vitale’s late-in-the-game, albeit clean, hit on Daniel Briere sent Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette over the edge – literally. An infuriated Laviolette wanted a piece of Penguins bench boss Dan Bylsma and was willing to climb over the boards to get to him. Instead he got Pens assistant Tony Granato. Both men were chucked after the shouting match and NBC got in on the hilarity when Mike Milbury said that Bylsma should have “taken off his skirt” in order to confront Laviolette. Who says hockey isn’t a serious sport?

Tim Shaffer/ReutersApril 2012 – Entertaining? Yes. Playoff hockey? Not even close. Murphy’s Law applied to the Penguins in their first-round loss to the Flyers. The league’s third-best penalty kill operated at 47.8%, their goalie, who had won 42 games in the regular season, allowed 26 goals in 6 games, and League MVP Evgeni Malkin was no match for rookie Sean Couturier. Horrible goaltending and a lack of self-control ran rampant on both sides.

April 2012 – The Sid-Ovi feud is so 2009, so when Claude Giroux bested Crosby and the Penguins, an intriguing new  storyline developed for the NHL. Giroux helped seal the elimination game for the Flyers with a stellar first shift in which he beat Crosby in the faceoff circle and sent him flying with a huge hit before scoring a goal.

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