The Keystone state should expect tremors in weeks to come. The Eastern Conference title is on the line, and you can expect a merciless battle these days any time the Philadelphia Flyers and the Pittsburgh Penguins playoff. Their younger siblings are also playing for a coveted spot in their league championship. The Scranton Penguins go into game four with a 2-1 series lead over the Philadelphia Phantoms, but one thing that can be guaranteed is both Philadelphia teams will show up to play, and their cult-like followers will be behind them in forceful numbers.
The fact the Flyers and the Penguins won’t be exchanging friendly wishes in the off time before the series starts is certainly not a shock to anyone. The two teams make no attempts to conceal the fact they just don’t like each other. On December 11, 2007 the Flyers decidedly finished off the Pens in an 8-2 victory at home. Even coaches John Stevens and Michel Therrien involved their selves in some unfriendly exchanges through the media, which began when Therrien criticized Stevens for using his top power play late in the already decided contest. Stevens felt that when a team takes dirty penalties that aren’t part of the game and are seemingly intentional, you do your best to show them they can expect the puck in their net.
When the teams met again on January 24, 2008 the battle picked up right where it left off. With about ten seconds left in the 2nd period Flyers forward Steve Downie was sent head first into the boards by the Pen’s George Laraque. Many Flyers’ fans feel a suspension was warranted, but the league felt a five minute major and a game misconduct was enough for Laraque. John Stevens didn’t like the dirty play which he felt had become characteristic of the Pens, and let them know by including Riley Cote in the power play unit with about two seconds to go in the period. Being he had not netted a single goal at this point in the season, one would assume he wasn’t out there for his scoring. Ryan Malone declined Cote’s invitation to drop the mitts, and after stealing a few shots Cote was given a ten minute major. Steve Downie seemed to brush off the injury rather well. He came back in the third and engaged in a scrum with the Penguin’s Ryan Stone, whom he sent to the ice after a fiery exchange.
The Flyers took five of eight regular season games from the Pens, and now they only need four. However, the Penguins come into the series with a lot of energy, and the deadline acquisition Marion Hossa. Young goal tender Marc-Andre Fleury, who leads the playoffs with the highest save percentage, also seems to have found a groove in the playoffs. Yet at the other end, Marty Biron as of yet has not been adverse to a goal tending challenge in the 2008 playoffs. After out playing the much hyped Cristobal Huet and Carey Price, Biron seems to be riding a strong success wave of his own. Biron has shown his desire to move on toward the cup by making huge saves on the penalty kill and slamming the door shut on breakaway chances.
Another Flyer who has brought his top game when it counted in this year’s playoffs is R.J. Umberger. The young forward put the puck behind Carey Price twice to end the series against the Canadians, scoring his 7th and 8th goals of the 2008 playoffs. Unfortunately for the Penguins, Umberger has enjoyed this same success when facing his hometown native Pittsburgh Penguins. He has 18 points in 23 games against Pittsburgh, and has been consistently productive when playing at Mellon Arena, where the series will begin on Friday May 9, at 7:30pm.
The Penguins are coming into the series only losing one game thus far in the playoffs. They are a team with young weapons such as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and to be successful the Flyers must work hard to contain their energy early. The Penguins have already shown their resilience during the 2008 playoffs by overcoming a 3-0 deficit against the New York Rangers to secure a victory in game 1 of the semi-finals. One thing is certain, both teams are riding with a ton of momentum, and Friday night both teams will embark on an eventful battle which will make for a great series.