The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is more than 46,000 square miles, but if you were to ask any die-hard fan of the Philadelphia Flyers or the Pittsburgh Penguins, there simply isn’t enough space for both hockey teams to coexist.
The storied rivalry between the two teams, which has provoked wordplay like “Cindy Crosby” and “Filthadelphia,” has increased in intensity in recent years, making hockey in Pennsylvania one of the most enjoyable, yet divisive issues in the entire state.
Whether you are a hardcore hockey fan or casual spectator, a hometown fanatic or a lone transplant in a hostile crowd, the bad blood between these two teams is enough to make the timid and weak think twice about sporting the wrong jersey in the wrong stadium.
Here are seven reasons we just cannot get enough of Flyers-Penguins.
The Penguins and Flyers do not simply battle for supremacy in the division; this rivalry is geographic, and everyone in the state of Pennsylvania is forced to pick a side.
With the Flyers dominating the more populous east side of the state and the Penguins covering the expansive area in the central and west, the loyalists of each team have trouble avoiding one another. Even with the proximity of the Devils, Rangers and Islanders to Philadelphia, there is something about sharing a commonwealth that simply doesn’t sit well with Flyers fans.
Driving down the PA Turnpike come playoff time, one can slowly watch the “Go Flyers!” signs turn into “Go Pens!” And when that happens, while you’re still in your home state, you’ve entered enemy territory.
Just to reinforce the geographic rivalry, each team’s AHL team spent years sharing the state as well, with the Phantoms in Philly and the Baby Penguins playing in Wilkes Barre-Scranton. Now the Phantoms play in New York, but reports indicate that the team could move to Allentown, Pa., by 2013.
The Flyers and Penguins are like two students sharing a dorm that just cannot seem to get along.
Nothing spices up a rivalry like a group of legendary players.
In the 1990s, the Penguins were led by future Hall-of-Famers Jaromir Jagr and Mario Lemieux. Conversely, the Flyers acquired the most coveted up-and-comer in hockey, and talented center, built like a tank, named Eric Lindros.
Few players garnered more attention than these three, and any time the teams were matched up, fans were treated to a battle of future legends.
Both Lindros and Lemieux would lose significant portions of their careers to health issues, but that fact only heightens the debate that these two could have been on top of the NHL if they had had full careers—and let’s face it, Lemieux is one of the greatest ever despite his lost time.
Rivalries just don’t flourish without greatness on both ends.
For all the history of these teams, the present is still doing its part to contribute to the rivalry. Each team finds itself being led by one of the league’s most talented, respectable and fundamentally-sound individuals.
Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux has burst onto the scene in 2011-12 with 19 points in 16 games and is getting national attention as the top scorer on an offensively explosive squad.
Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby has no need to burst onto any scene; he has been the scene since arriving in the NHL after the lockout. He may garner mixed emotions in fans, but no honest fan can argue with his incredible abilities.
Both players are talented skaters with excellent vision and a knack to play anywhere on the ice. Defensively responsible and reliable on special teams, both are the Renaissance Men of their respective teams.
And head-to-head, fans are treated to some of the greatest hockey they’ll ever find. Expect these names to be on the marquee of Flyers-Pens games for years to come.
The playoffs bring out the best in these teams, especially when they face each other. PA’s rivals have played their share of intriguing playoff games, but two recent matches stand out as truly legendary.
In 2009, on their way to a Stanley Cup championship, the Penguins were clinging to a 3-2 series lead against the Flyers and found themselves down 3-0 in Game 6. A Dan Carcillo beatdown of Pitt’s Max Talbot seemed to assure the rout, but the Pens found their legs and scored five unanswered goals and ended the Flyers’ season in one fell swoop.
The Pens rode that momentum all the way through the finals.
In 2000, the Flyers and Penguins found themselves in an eighth period of playoff hockey, as the teams battled through a 1-1 game to reach a fifth overtime. Maligned Flyers center Keith Primeau made a move around Darius Kasparitis in the circle and found the top corner over the shoulder of Ron Tugnutt to end the marathon and send the Flyers home with the series tied.
Philly would go on to win the series and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, capitalizing on the sheer will they used to outlast the Penguins in one of the longest games in hockey history.
In a rivalry as fierce as this one, nothing gets fans up in arms quite like seeing your guy wearing their uniform.
John LeClair and Arron Asham became Penguins after leaving the Flyers; Mark Recchi went from Pittsburgh to Philly back to Pittsburgh. Max Talbot left his teammates in Pittsburgh to ink a deal with the hated Flyers this past summer.
But the most notable Benedict Arnold is Jaromir Jagr, who started his legendary career as a Penguin. After bouncing around the NHL and playing in Europe, Jagr made it very public that he was interested in returning to the NHL this summer.
The Penguins were among the frontrunners to bring on the future Hall-of-Famer. The Flyers seemed to be uninterested, until Paul Holmgren put a $3.3 million deal on the table to bring one of hockey’s most valuable veterans onto a team of young players.
Flyers fans will tell you Jagr wanted the best chance at a Cup. Pens fans will tell you it was all about the money. Either way, it’s very possible that one of Pittsburgh’s greatest legends will retire in orange and black.
That’s got to sting.
The vicious play on the ice makes Flyers-Pens a great match-up, but it’s the emotion in the stands that makes this rivalry so intense.
For all the similarities between the teams, the attitudes of the fans could not be more frustratingly different.
The Penguins have notoriously fair-weathered spectators; Consol Energy Center may be big on the white-out these days, but the Penguins would have been run out of town due to bankruptcy if Super Mario hadn’t had a hand in saving the team for Pittsburgh.
The Pens couldn’t give tickets away, but with Crosby and Evgeni Malkin taking the team deep into the playoffs, the hockey world has somehow forgotten Pitt’s apathy.
The Flyers, on the other hand, have sold very close to capacity—and often above it—for years and have a reputation for being one of the most passionate hockey fan bases in the United States. Flyers fans are rude, passionate and unforgiving, yet the Pens are the team that has been awarded with a Stanley Cup in recent memory.
For Flyers fans, who have been Cup-less since 1975, seeing these wanna-be die-hards have their parade turns frustration into rage, which only makes this rivalry more fun to be a part of.
In this day and age, few teams are a bigger draw than the Flyers and Penguins.
Pittsburgh, behind Crosby and Malkin, is the darling of the NHL, getting plenty of national exposure and drawing attention across the United States and Canada for its superstar players and well-respected coach.
Philadelphia is known as destructive, aggressive and dynamic on the ice, and the spectators in the stands are merciless. NBC has considered the Flyers one of its biggest draws for years, despite the absence of high-scoring superstars like Crosby or Washington’s Alex Ovechkin.
This January, Philadelphia will become the second team to be selected to participate in two Winter Classic games. The first? The Pittsburgh Penguins.
No longer is this rivalry fought purely in the borders of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The struggle is displayed nationally, for all to see. And, that will only add fuel to an already raging fire.