There is nothing better in sports than an exciting, physical game between two NHL rivals that absolutely hate each other.
Wednesday's instant classic between the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins was the finest example of this. Here's Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette after his team's 6-5 victory (via Flyers.com):
It carries a lot of emotion and a lot of energy. Great games for the players, for the fans, everybody.
It was a good playoff-type atmosphere and playoff-type hockey. ... There were just some crazy parts to the game tonight.
Every hockey game should just be Penguins-Flyers.— Bruce Arthur (@bruce_arthur) February 21, 2013
Unfortunately, we will have to wait 14 days before the Penguins and Flyers meet for a third time this season. But until then, there are plenty of highlights and storylines to digest from Wednesday's epic game.
In case you weren't able to update your scoresheet because of the nonstop action between these two Atlantic Division rivals, they combined for 11 goals, 64 shots, 48 penalty minutes and 27 hits.
The third period was 20 minutes of the most exciting sports action you will see in 2013 from any league, regular season or playoffs.
Here's what the final frame included:
- Six goals (including five scores in a 13-minute span from 5:29 to 18:29)
- The Flyers took a two-goal lead twice, with Pittsburgh tying the score with 2:31 remaining
- Jakub Voracek scored the game-winning goal with 1:31 left to complete his hat trick
- Wayne Simmonds became the first player since 2010-11 to record a Gordie Howe hat trick with two goals
- Multiple power plays for the Penguins
No other sport gives you more excitement, intensity and passion from regular season games than hockey.
What is the best rivalry in the NHL right now?
It doesn't matter where the Penguins and Flyers (or any other pair of rivals) sit in the standings when they play: It's always going to be treated like the most important game of the season. Sure, you could say this about a lot of other sports, too, but NHL players take it to a level far beyond what is seen in the NFL, the NBA and Major League Baseball.
Rivals in the NHL often treat regular-season games like a Game 7 in the playoffs, and that's exactly what happened in Pittsburgh on Wednesday night. Taking two points isn't the only objective.
There are heated, one-on-one battles between players and coaches that bring out the best (and worst) in everyone. The growing rivalry between Penguins captain Sidney Crosby and Flyers captain Claude Giroux is one of the best player rivalries in sports.
It's these kinds of one-on-one rivalries in the NHL that make the sport so great. Two great players from rival teams who don't like each other battling for the greatest trophy in sports, the Stanley Cup.
Unlike the case in a lot of other sports, even when there isn't a lot of scoring for an entire game, or for long stretches, hockey is rarely boring. The end-to-end action, with both teams trading scoring chances and huge hits, makes hockey the best sport to watch on television or live at the arena.
You almost never see a boring game between two great NHL rivals.
There are quite a few people who oppose fighting in the NHL, but being able to drop your gloves and settle a dispute or get revenge for a dirty hit by fighting an opponent is one of the most exciting events to watch in all of sports. No other league allows the players to police the game as much as the NHL.
The Penguins and Flyers drop the gloves quite often when they play each other, and Wednesday night's contest included a fantastic bout between Wayne Simmonds and Tanner Glass.
Going to a rivalry game between two NHL teams that includes a lot of goals and fights can be one of the best experiences of a sports fan's life. There's just nothing like it.
For example, the Feb. 9, 2011, meeting (video below) between historic rivals the Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens at TD Garden had a combined 14 goals and 192 penalty minutes, as well as many fights, including a bout between star goaltenders Tim Thomas and Carey Price.
This is the kind of game you remember just as much as a championship-clinching triumph.
Not only do rivalries bring out the best in the players involved, but the fans in attendance also give their best efforts to add even more noise and excitement to the arena. Hockey fans are the most loyal and knowledgeable group of supporters in sports, and they bring the same kind of energy to the rink that the players do.
Some NHL games become so intense, the fans actually get involved with the players. Does anyone remember the Bruins going into the stands at Madison Square Garden in 1979?
NHL rivalries are fantastic in the regular season, but the playoffs is when they really shine. You won't find anything in sports more enjoyable than a seven-game series between two NHL rivals that despise each other.
One of the many reasons that the Flyers and Penguins game from Wednesday night was so heated is that these teams battled in one of the best first-round playoff series of all time last season. Each of the six games in that series was must-see TV, and the series included a playoff-record 45 goals scored in the first four games.
Just watching the highlights can give you goosebumps.
It doesn't matter whether NHL rivals are meeting in the regular season or in a playoff series: Fans can always expect a great game in which each player will do everything he possibly can to win. The competition level in NHL rivalries is higher than in any other sport, and that's what makes them so fun to watch.
Let's hope that the Flyers and Penguins meet in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Who wouldn't want at least four more games of the most passionate rivalry in sports at the moment?
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter. He was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals and 2012 NHL playoffs.