Pens-Flyers is the kind of rivalry NHL marketing suits try fruitlessly to emulate year-in and year-out.
“So you know, Crosby gets cross-checked, big whoop. He said after he came back from his 35th concussion, ‘I’m not going to do this anymore, I’m not going to get into these scrums, I’m going to stay away from that stuff.’ He couldn’t help himself because there’s a little punk in Crosby."
Let's not lose sight of who Mike Milbury is. This is the former New York Islanders GM who traded away Zdeno Chara, Roberto Luongo and others before dealing the draft pick that became Jason Spezza so he could sign Alexei Yashin to a 10-year contract. His affinity for goons forced the NHL Board of Governors to change the All-Star selection process. As a player, he entered the stands during a game to beat a fan with said fan's own shoe.
The suits at NBCSN might want to warn their Don Cherry doppelganger not to confuse Crosby's 35 concussions with his own.
[And in the interest of fairness, Milbury's apology to the Pens emerged following publication.]
Penguins fans and media are unprecedentedly jammed up about Milbury's knuckle-dragging commentary, and rightfully so, but despite NBC's best efforts to never fire him no matter what, Milbury cannot be confused for hockey.
Milbury is not hockey. Milbury is a series of bits too stupid to make it out of the editing room of Happy Gilmore.
He is loud. He is uninformed. He is a villain.
His tasteless comments regarding Crosby and the Penguins followed the late scrum that punctuated Sunday's game with the Flyers and happen to stand in sharp contrast with his prior "genuine" concern with player safety.
Of course, Milbury is like anyone else. He wants his point to be known.
“I can remember being on such a perch," the former coach told CBS Philadelphia, "or at least trying to climb over the boards to get at somebody to make a point. And I thought Dan Bylsma should have taken off his skirt and gone over there.”
You don't say, Mike.
(By the way, does anyone think the laughter of the Philly shills at the '35 concussions' crack was loud enough to make Chris Pronger turn down his radio? Raise one hand for yes, the other three in your vision for no.)
The post-lockout market-factured rivalry that has been Penguins-Capitals has fully rolled over for the bristling, common-sense-has-no-place-here opera that is Pens-Flyers and, barring three straight Pittsburgh wins and an unlikely collapse by the Rangers, the cross-commonwealth rivals will end the season with at least five straight meetings, perhaps as many as eight.
Mike Milbury isn't the only person who will offer regrettable garbage in the wake of these games, just the first and probably the loudest. Fan displeasure will be met by bad blood on the ice. Crosby himself said the Flyers "seem to bring out the worst" in him. They can bring out the worst in a guy like Scott Hartnell, too.
But Laviolette and Bylsma are no fools. No one will see Lavy climbing the boards and breaking sticks during a playoff game. Trailing by any margin late in a game, Bylsma will send out his scorers—which, you know, he's done in the past.
For all the talk of rivalry, these coaches are too smart and their players are too good to get caught playing the caveman hockey Milbury lauds for any extended stretch of the postseason.
But that can't stop what's coming. These teams hate each other. It started in 1967 when each side of the state entered the NHL as part of the expansion six. It grew with five postseason meetings, and was rekindled most recently with the summer 2011 defection of Cup-hero Max Talbot and the waffling of Jaromir Jagr and his sidekick super-agent Petr Svoboda.
The hits by Braden Schenn, Joe Vitale and others on Sunday were just primer.
If history and regular-season success point to anything, the all-but-certain playoff series awaiting these clubs will be relentless, infuriating and blood-boiling. Players will leave everything on the ice. Fans will be invited to leave logic at the door.
That emotional investment is exactly what playoff hockey should be: emotional, reactionary, loud, stupid, illogical.
That's the reality of Pens-Flyers. That's what we want. That's who Mike Milbury is.
Milbury's no villain. He's the walking, shoe-slapping, child-shaking evil twin of what a genuine rivalry does to even the most "informed fan." Those who fancy themselves intellectuals of the game are put off by Milbury's comments. Certainly, those comments have no place coming from an alleged representative of the game.
However, it doesn't take a Board of Governors meeting to determine that Milbury is not a representative of the game, just as Pens-Flyers isn't a two-team bidding war for the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy. Milbury is outwardly off-putting, just like the inevitable fights and scrums that will punctuate seemingly every game these teams play.
And we'll gobble it up.
Like Vitale's gutless, unpunished, shoulder-to-chest assault on Danny Briere, the extracurriculars of the coming series will simply be part of the recipe. If these sorts of things hurt your feelings (and let's be honest, the Briere hit hurt Lavy's pride), hockey's probably not your game.
The rest of us might not always talk proudly about these sorts of things, but we'll look forward to them nonetheless. It may be ugly, but it's entertainment and that's what we came here for.